Last weekend was Northwestern’s third home game, but almost no students saw the first two. They weren’t allowed to move back onto campus when the ‘Cats beat Towson at Ryan Field in week one, or when Eastern Michigan left Evanston with a loss in week two.
But the Wildcats’ 2-1 home record is somewhat misleading. Only the loss to Minnesota featured a significantly sized student section and felt like a real home game. Thanks to the quarter system, upperclassmen weren’t even allowed to move onto campus until week three of the college football season.
I know that the quarter system has benefits for student athletes. They basically get to be professional athletes for a month before classes start. They have time to get their routine down, focus on athletics and get situated before they begin classes. Semester students have to start sports and school at the same time.
But don’t be fooled. Northwestern’s strange academic schedule has disadvantages too, like an almost empty student section for the first two weeks of the year.
“It’s definitely better to have our students here,” football head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “There’s no doubt about that, but that’s something that’s out of our control.”
It doesn’t have to be. Northwestern isn’t required to start the season off with two home games — the Northwestern athletic department sets the nonconference schedule. The football team could play some nonconference road games while it waits for students to arrive. Besides, it would be easier for student athletes to travel while they don’t have to worry about classes. Let Coach Fitzgerald play all six of his home games with the “twelfth man” in the student section.
I don’t really see a downside. Sure, starting the season with two straight road games is no picnic, but I’m willing to bet that this year’s ‘Cats team could handle Towson, even if the game had been played in Maryland. I’d even argue that if Syracuse had come to Evanston the same time most upperclassman were arriving on campus, Greg Paulus and the Orangemen may have walked out of Ryan Field with a loss. Maybe Stefan Demos makes the game-tying kick on his home field. Besides, every collegiate athlete I’ve ever spoken to prefers playing home games in front of fans.
“I love looking up into the stands and seeing the student section full,” said freshman running back Arby Fields, who has only played one home game at Ryan Field since students arrived on campus. “You don’t really have time to think about all that stuff during the game, but I’d say it makes a big difference.”
I don’t really care what the university has to do; I just want students to be able to take a shuttle from whatever dorm they live in to Ryan Field before all the home football games, not just the ones after week three. If students have to move in earlier because it’s too hard to schedule two straight road games (although scheduling two straight home games didn’t seem to be a problem this year) then let the students move in earlier.
Not just the CAs and the freshmen. Let anyone who wants to come to a week one home game move into their dorm in time to cheer on the Wildcats. It would cost more money, but it isn’t infeasible. The dorms are already prepared for athletes, CAs and freshmen who arrive on campus early. There isn’t any reason to intentionally prevent upperclassmen from joining them. The football team can generate more than enough revenue to permit students to come to school two weeks earlier; last year they generated 15 million dollars. I’m also sure Pat Fitzgerald and Arby Fields will appreciate playing in a stadium that isn’t pretty much empty.