Improving the Georgia Game Night Experience is critical to creating an actual Basketball Culture.
Georgia Football has a distinctive culture, it is a twist on the overall Southern Football culture, but it is a culture unto itself. Georgia Football culture is 24/7/365 because of Gamedays in the Fall, the anticipation and it is possibly the only way to acceptably show Southern pride in today’s sensitive culture. Georgia Football is an unquestioned fixture and despite the financial barriers to stadium entry, it maintains a passionate, populist appeal that is known nationwide. The pomp and circumstance, tribalism, traditions, libations, food, preparation and the last remaining shreds of “the way things used to be” are brought to the fore by Georgia Football. The conclusion is that Georgia Football is to be taken VERY SERIOUSLY. How seriously? The SEC Network even runs a promotional spot that likens a visit to SEC Football stadiums to going to Church, more like a revivalist, evangelical sort of experience.
Georgia Basketball has no distinctive culture, it is an attempt to appropriate some Georgia Football traditions mixed with an experience one would have at a preseason NBA game. At times, T-Shirt giveaways and halftime shows get more attention than the actual game itself. The Georgia Basketball experience is too often defined by apathy/antipathy, a docile crowd, plenty of red seats, late arrivals, passionate visiting fans and an extreme lack of understanding of the game. Georgia Basketball is a sad shell of an experience and this has to change.
Winning is a temporary fix to a cultural problem that is defined by a lack of passion. Winning just creates a bandwagon effect that immediately fades. Attendance is a symptom, the root cause is not a lack of winning because if it was then Georgia Football games in the 1990s would have had terrible attendance. The 2010 Georgia Football Team would have also failed to sell out Sanford Stadium for the annual Georgia Tech Football Game. Coming off an NCAA Tournament berth, Georgia could not fill Stegeman Coliseum for a game against Georgia Tech. The official attendance was 8,011, which means that the arena was 76.13% full for a rivalry game. The actual number of seats technically filled would be less than the official attendance for the Georgia Tech game as it reflects the number of tickets actually sold. Georgia Basketball had only four games that were sold out this season (Clemson, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Auburn).
For once, the fan base needs to step up and fix this problem rather than a coach. All the University of Georgia Athletic Association needs to do is facilitate the new traditions as best as they can. This is a failing that rests solely on the shoulders of the fan base. There’s a grand opportunity here to forge new traditions and leave a lasting legacy at the First State Chartered Public University in the United States of America. It is hard to leave a legacy and be remembered at the University of Georgia for so many have walked around The Arch and then walked right through it after graduation. In 231 years, the University of Georgia only a select number of individuals have stood out to be remembered forever for their contributions to both the University and the world. This is a challenge that should be addressed NOW so that future generations can enjoy a better experience and those that came before them can become legendary.
How legendary can one be? UGA students and alumni are familiar with the tale of Harold Mulherin. Harold Mulherin led a one-man crusade to abolish the Student Government Association (SGA) in 1979. Mulherin rode through campus on a horse evangelizing his message of abolition and he won. With his victory, SGA was dissolved on April 5, 1979 and it was not resurrected until 1987. The historical impact of Mulherin’s victory was the legendary horseback campaign, the unique quadrennial Vote of Confidence in SGA that could lead to future dissolution and marked lack of power and interest that SGA holds on campus compared to peer institutions.
The whole idea of having Uga on the sideline was a student inspired idea, Sonny Seiler brought his English Bulldog to a game and for generations after the Seiler family found themselves in charge of supplying the University of Georgia with one of the most famous and beloved mascots. It was an innovative, student conceived concept that did not rely upon the institution to give the direction.
Traditions become traditions because someone had the initiative to do something and people embraced the concept. Traditions are not meant to crowd out new traditions, but rather to inspire future generations to lead instead of blindly following. The big problem with UGA, there is far too much following and not enough initiative. Many do not realize that history rewards the bold, fearless and entrepreneurial at the University of Georgia. The bold are remembered forever while the not-so-bold are just another name on a list.
Who should lead this movement? Who is best served to create the traditions?
This needs to be student driven. The Class of 2017 through 2020 need to be the ones that create the change at the University of Georgia. The students have the passion, ideas, locality and time to execute this. Be like Sonny Seiler and Harold Mulherin rather than being the students that coasted through without contributing to the campus culture in any way. Undergraduates at the University of Georgia have four years to tinker, create, experiment, succeed and fail in an environment that is conducive to such behavior. The biggest lessons from the University of Georgia experience should not have come from the classroom or even at a Downtown Athens bar, they should have come from real life experiences and opportunities to make an actual difference in whatever way it may be.
This is a generation that is accustomed to hearing terms like “The New Normal” and settling for a future that is worse than the one that came before them. It can be different, it takes initiative and boldness. The freedom to create and be bold is what the United States was supposed to be about, but people became far too comfortable with the status quo. It is why the risk-takers have the most harrowing tales, generate wealth and change the lives of many for the better. Maintaining the status quo has been beaten into generations at the University of Georgia, but so few choose to stand out. It is too easy to blame others that are unconnected and institutions, but it is hard to disrupt and the only true path to progress is through natural market forces. Demagoguery, shame and coercion are not the ways that the great change agents of the world made their mark. This is an opportunity to make that mark and take that credit.
It’s too difficult for alumni to take the lead here. Most in-state UGA alumni are in the Atlanta area with busy weekday schedules and getting to Stegeman Coliseum after work, which never has a predetermined close of business time, is difficult. It is easy to get to Athens for a game on a Saturday, but it is extremely tough for the weekday games. Out-of-state UGA alumni wish they can have the opportunity to go to more games in Athens, but road and neutral site games are their only opportunities to attend.
The local Athens community has an approach that seems to take the attendance and cultural failures for granted. Why buy season tickets when the same ticket is going to be available for $8 on a Tuesday prior to a home game?
The Georgia Basketball environment for much of the home slate is more or less a mere family outing. It’s an indoor picnic with the kids at a Basketball Game. The tickets might as well be a part of a McDonald’s Family Pack. Winning does not make these sorts of promotions go away as the St. Louis Blues are running this promotion and they are currently tied for first place in the Western Conference (as of 3/31/2016) in preparation for their quest to secure Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Of course, there’s the traditional Georgia non-alumni fans that are well known for their lack of support of anything not Football. Relying on this crowd requires a complete change in the way that they think and it is not worth the effort. This is a far bigger challenge than getting alumni to attend a weekday game. Some of the weekday games are at 9 PM and those are easier games to attend, but expecting non-alumni to show up is nearly impossible. This is not the target audience.
The target audience for Georgia Basketball should be:
- The diehards that are typically comprised of supportive local alumni, faculty and the Atlanta alumni that find a way to fight through the traffic to get into Athens on both weekdays and weekends. Those that are already on the Georgia Basketball Trolley should be expected to stay on it and be appreciated for their undying support.
- Young Alumni as they have less familial obligations.
Winning Over the Greeks on Campus
Mark Fox makes a critical mistake every year. He does his Milledge Avenue tour once a season, which seems on the surface to be a very good idea as the Greek Organizations do stir the UGA social cocktail in a figurative sense. The problem is not that he makes the visits, the problem is two-fold:
- The tour is done in late October, which is just before the season and many social plans for the Fall and early Spring have already been scheduled!
- He only makes one visit.
This can easily be fixed and all Fox has to do is make visits in April and October. Use April as an opportunity to thank the Greek community for their support and to encourage them to anticipate having to block out dates on their calendar to come out to Stegeman Coliseum as opposed to Formals, Date Nights and Socials. He can encourage treating the Saturday games in the Winter/Spring much like the Fall. Fraternities often hold band parties on the Fridays before home football games. This can be done in the Spring too for Basketball as well.
Encouraging the Greek organizations to bring the same sort of spirit and passion toward Basketball means that the fun happens for more than just six or seven weekends per year.
Then there’s always road games and the benefits of an extended brotherhood or sisterhood afforded to the National Greek Organizations with chapters across the United States. Using the road games as an excuse for chapters to come together and enhance support for Georgia Basketball on the road is a practice often seen during Football season.
Winning Over the Overall Student Population
The University of Georgia Athletic Association recognizes that they have a football problem as far as support is concerned. The institution of the Commit to the G student rewards program illustrates the desperation that exists to get students to actually care about other sports as well. Unfortunately, the approach is to bribe via apparel purchases. Georgia Men’s Basketball games are free for UGA students to attend and the seating is not bad either, but this can be improved too.
Getting student involvement for Georgia Men’s Basketball and other sports can be approached in two ways: The carrot and the stick. The best part is that these two approaches are not an “either/or”, but rather an “and/or”.
The Stick Approach
Students that want a full set of season tickets have to not only attend these Football games to have higher priority to attend games the following season, but would fall in priority for season tickets if they do not attend other Georgia sporting events. A new Commit to the G program would factor in the following for Georgia Football student ticketing: Credit hours earned, GPA, attendance to UGA Football games and attendance to other UGA sporting events.
The only reward that is included in this stick is that the priority system for tickets to the road and neutral site games is also included in this and that means many that would not previously be able to attend road games by sheer luck of the draw will now get the opportunity to get to the top of the pecking order.
The Carrot Approach
It is a combination of outreach in the dining halls and dorms along with encouraging the fun of Football Gamedays to continue. Students need to consider the student population at the University of Arkansas (Mizzou is a terrible example because of recent events) because it gets rather cold in the Ozarks in November and they still tailgate for Football Games. Tailgating in anticipation of a basketball game like it is a Saturday in the Fall should be a part of the Game Day/Game Night experience. Liberalized usage of Myers Quad can certainly help things.
Basketball tailgates can be a bit more different:
- Sundresses are not exactly conducive to the weather.
- Shirts and ties are optional, but certainly would be a great extension of tradition.
- Less elaborate setups as TVs and generators are not needed for 7 PM tip-offs on weekdays and Noon tip-offs on Saturdays.
- Food items do not necessarily have to be pizza, which is just so cliched for College Basketball.
- More hot drinks at tailgates.
The UGA Athletic Association having a receptive ear to what students want and wish to do during the games is also something to keep in mind. The students should be the ones creating the new traditions, everyone else missed out on their opportunity to make that lasting impact.
Traditions to Consider
The Black Hole
Consider that the Spike Squad is already painted up in Red and Black. Simply having every game be a blackout game immediately creates an atmosphere. The exception to the blackout game concept would be when Georgia Tech comes to town and having everyone clad in red would be more appropriate. The designated “color outs” for Football gave rise to inspired ways to show spirit in the particular color as opposed to just giving a select number of fans a t-shirt. Giving away 180,000 T-shirts is not a good idea as far as creating an atmosphere, it also is a major chore and an unnecessary expense.
Since the idea of a true blackout game is so taboo with Football, why not let it be a Basketball tradition? Whether Georgia would be allowed to wear the typical road black jerseys at home is allowed is another matter. Georgia is able to wear Silver jerseys, Ole Miss is able to wear gray jerseys and Baylor wears those neon yellow jerseys at home that are blinding. It is hard to mistake Georgia’s black jerseys for another school’s jerseys with the notable exceptions of South Carolina and Missouri.
The idea of black jerseys at home and wearing the silver jerseys on special occasions is very similar to LSU’s tradition of wearing white home uniforms at Tiger Stadium for SEC games and optionally sporting Purple uniforms for the non-SEC games. There is no traditional element to the jerseys as far as Georgia Basketball is concerned. Fans gravitate toward quirky traditions like these.
Black dresses, black shirts, black ties, black jackets, black shakers. The flag that is raised in victory is a black version of the Georgia flag.
Mark Fox as a Kansas City Chiefs fan may object to copying a concept from the Oakland Raiders though.
Free Throw Distractions on Both Ends of the Floor
The scoreboard side that is the home of the Dawg Pound needs something innovative to distract opposing Free Throw shooters. Arizona State is the most innovative with their Curtain of Distraction. However, the Stegeman Coliseum experience needs something fresh and original to distract opponents. This is where being on a university campus is helpful because enlisting a few consultations from UGA professors in multiple disciplines could help develop a method to distracting an opposing Free Throw shooter.
The other baseline is more conducive for an old-fashioned Dawg Pound sort of a section that resembles the way Georgia Tech and Alabama have structured their baseline student sections in the past. The other baseline provides no organized effort to distract an opposing Free Throw shooter.
Parodies of Opponent’s Traditions
Instead of cringing upon hearing Sandstorm when watching a South Carolina game, make it fun for the Georgia fans by playing Sandstorm with a Dawg barking in the middle of it like the way South Carolina has the rooster. Tongue-in-cheek recognition that opponents have a tradition and twisting it for UGA fans’ amusement is a fun idea. If the SEC wants to make the South Carolina-Georgia series an actual rivalry, there has to be some parody on the UGA side.
Playing Rocky Top backwards during the pre-game shootaround when Tennessee comes to Athens is another humorous idea.
The students have to run with it, but the best examples are found at Duke with the Cameron Crazies. They have a well-organized offensive and defensive approach, the same needs to be done at Georgia. At Georgia, the chants can be smarter than just a simple “U-G-A”, it could be once the fans notice an opposing defense is playing in a zone defense “They’re in zone!” chant. Smarter chants to make the opposing coach shake their head and try to get too tricky to mess with the Dawg Pound.
A unique defensive sound from fans would also throw things off too. Every opponent is accustomed to the “Ohhhhh” sound and the only school that defies that is Texas A&M where they yell “Ayyyyyy”. Consider how that wears down a crowd as far as voice fatigue. An alternative sound or series of sounds may work. Come up with something that just sounds ridiculous, is easy to remember and is not too fatiguing. Barking for 30 seconds on defense can be very fatiguing. Copying the chants of the fans of Football Clubs in Europe may not be a bad idea either.
Using an opposing student-athlete’s Twitter account and coming up with funny, appropriate material based on what is found there would also work. Nothing wrong with shaming a student-athlete for following Nickelback on Twitter.
Starting lineups and the anticipation for when the team comes out for the first time after shootaround gets the crowd going, but having the team come down from the baseline student section like the way Jay Wright’s Villanova teams would is a nice touch. There is an emergence of the representatives of the University of Georgia as they are student-athletes. The walk down the steps would be slow and measured to avoid any injury, security would ensure that the steps are clear for when the Dawg Walk takes place. A countdown to the Dawg Walk would run prior to it for the purposes of anticipation.
It does not have to be called Dawg Walk, of course. It can be called the Steps of Greatness or something else.
Copying the New York Yankees’ Bleacher Creatures Roll Call immediately after Tip-Off
Alignment of Seating
Fixing how the seating at Stegeman Coliseum is set up can provide a much more intimidating and fun atmosphere. There are things that Georgia Basketball can replicate from several different programs in order to expand the Dawg Pound and provide quality seating to non-students.
Per SEC rules, student seating may not be behind the team benches. This means that the placement of students can be anywhere else. Consider where students are placed currently, they are placed along half of the sideline with significant buffer space, an upper corner of the arena and the scoreboard area. In the second half, opponents do not have to deal with the student section at all when on offense. This is extremely disadvantageous for Georgia’s home atmosphere.
The Auburn Jungle, Rowdy Reptiles of Florida and Georgia Tech student sections are all rather close to the action and enjoy a courtside view along one of the sidelines. They do not include the baseline end zone areas. However, with Georgia’s student section being 2,500+ strong, Georgia’s student section can occupy the first five rows in front of Sections Q through V. Sections V and U go back to being donor seats. Sections UU through WW fill in the lower areas on the other baseline along with Sections L and M. Those upper areas become donor seats that are eligible fore the Bench Warmer program.
Sections XX, YY, W, X, Y, Z and A all remain student seating.
The sections that are colored in black (courtside seating) remain and if some form of a barricade is needed for the new Dawg Pound alignment, so be it.
Young Alumni should get a section of their own and Section T might be the best place for them as it provides the ability to network with UGA Faculty and maintain proximity to the Dawg Pound below.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone can help…