So what do you think of when you think of Northwestern sports?
The worst choke-fest in the history of NCAA football? At a home game? Even worse, at the Homecoming game? Of course, I’m talking about the 2006 loss to Michigan State where we gave up a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Or maybe our men’s basketball team comes to mind. College sports analysts and commentators (surely because of the countlessMedillalums in the sports media) are quick to point out that our ‘Cats are the only team in the BCS to not go to the NCAA tournament.
Such famed futility has made mocking Northwestern athletics a legitimate campus pastime. ESPN at one point commemorated the 1979-1982 football team as the third worst college football team of all time (that team lost 34 straight games, still an NCAA record).
Students, alumni, commentators and spectators all speculate about our lack of general athletic success. Some say it is because of our powerful conference: Playing traditional athletic powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan, among others, in most sports every year does not help our chances. But Vanderbilt has had athletic success (especially in basketball) — and they’re in as difficult of a conference as we are.
We’re too small, others say. Look no further than Davidson (or Duke) to see small schools succeed in basketball. Some say we don’t have the recruiting cache of other schools. What, a top university, proximity to Chicago, and Big 10 national exposure aren’t enough?
Those aren’t the reasons for Northwestern’s lack of athletic success. Do you want to know who’s responsible?
That’s right. Now before you go all Kevin Borseth on me here, I challenge you to swallow your Purple Pride for one second and consider this: How many of us have actually been to a basketball game? How many of us would recognize the name Dustin Fox? What if I told you there’s someone on our softball team that hit two grand slams in a single game just last week?
Northwestern students, simply put, do not have a clue as to what’s going on with their sports teams. Do you think our basketball team would be so bad if people went to the games? Imagine traveling to a packed Michigan State stadium, then coming home to an empty student section! Our football team plays home games where visiting students sections outnumber our own student section! I know we have fewer students, but don’t we have any pride in hosting Big Ten football?
But if students restrict their knowledge of Northwestern athletics to football and basketball, they are truly clueless. It takes a little more curiosity — and school pride — to know what’s really going on in our athletic scene.
Right here at Northwestern, we have teams and individual athletes that are among the best in the country. Men’s and Women’s Swimming have had numerous All-Americans in the last few years. Women’s tennis is #1 in the country, and is by far the best program in the Big 10. Softball was in the national championship game in 2006. Men’s soccer was exceptional in 2006, and Brad North was a first-round draft pick by DC United of Major League Soccer that year. David Roth was drafted in the fourth round this year, after a great season. Wrestler Jake Herbert is training for the Olympics, and Dustin Fox is the NCAA Heavyweight Champion.
I have omitted one team from an already impressive list: Women’s Lacrosse is an athletic dynasty. They have been by far the best team in the nation since 2005, when they went undefeated. Once again they are #1 in the national rankings and were undefeated as of publication. Folks, we literally go to school with the best women’s lacrosse players in the country. There is no doubt about it.
However, I would challenge the average Northwestern student to name one starter on the lacrosse team. How is this possible? It is easy to make fun of sports at Northwestern. But we have two #1 teams in the country right now, and many people on campus could not name either of them. We don’t know how lucky we are.
So here’s how we can appreciate how great some of our sports are at Northwestern. I challenge everyone to see a lacrosse game or tennis match this year. They often give fans Chipotle just for showing up!
Think about this for a second: If our administration sees us going to swim meets, soccer games and wrestling matches, they will know that we value our teams. With more visible school spirit to advertise, we could recruit better players. Our athletics would then improve across the board. So let’s do our part and support ALL of our teams. There is no excuse.