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October 20, 2006

Until the second half of the football game last weekend, the mood was rather depressing at Ramer Field. The cheerleaders were seated in protest on the track. The north end of the bleachers — where the students usually sit — was bare. An occasional pep band tune was the only sound that made its way over the dull roar of the crowd. It certainly didn’t seem like a typical college football setting.

Ramer did light up toward the latter part of the game as the Falcons sealed a 17-20 victory over the UW-Stevens Point Pointers, and rightfully so. Things went well for the Falcons. The offense netted more than 330 total yards, the special teams were exceptional, and the defense held the Pointers to 91 yards rushing and recovered two fumbles. Unfortunately, there was one stat that was concerning to more than just the football team: attendance. Add that to the virtually silent crowd and you have nothing more than a great performance in a lousy environment.

Only 868 people came through the stadium gates last Saturday afternoon. To put this figure in perspective, compare it to recent attendance marks set by other Division III schools in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Last week UW-Stout hosted UW-Eau Claire, and 4,237 people were at the game. About 9,500 people attended the Whitewater-La Crosse game.

Frankly, that is piss poor.

There is no good reason for such a horrible turnout — the weather couldn’t have been better, and the game was at an accommodating 2 p.m. on a Saturday. The football team sucks, one might say. Bad excuse. Before they faced off last week, neither Stout nor Eau Claire had winning records, yet they can produce nearly five times the number of fans that UW-RF can generate.

The River Falls campus has fewer students enrolled than those other colleges, one might say. Bad excuse. St. John’s University, a Division III school in Minnesota and one of River Falls’ past foes, has less than 4,000 students on its campus, yet it had nearly 12,000 fans packed in its football stadium when its football team hosted Carleton earlier this year.

Less than a decade ago, the UW-RF football team was posting winning seasons and capturing conference championships. The team has hit a rough patch over the past few years, there’s no arguing that, but if college sporting events were all about winning to the fans, there would be no sense in going.

Here’s a fact: half the teams that play on Saturdays win, and the other half lose. Fans are there because they are fanatical about their team.

It isn’t just the football team that is suffering meager attendance. Right now the Falcon volleyball team is sitting at the No. 4 spot in the conference accumulating a 19-8 record so far this season. At the last home match against UW-La Crosse, there were only 145 people in the stands. Compare that to the 734 in attendance at Stout’s home opener this season.

There is no good excuse for this lack of student representation. It seems like every other college sports venue has a vicious, rabid, borderline-insane student section exploding with cheers and laughs and flat-out good, hearty fun. The students that make up these athletic teams thrive on the crowd’s behavior, and being able to perform in front of friends and classmates is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a college athlete. So slap on a layer of body paint, mix a vodka drink in a Nalgene bottle, and do some damage this homecoming weekend and beyond.

Ben Jipson is a student at UW-River Falls.