Lately there has been some criticism hurled in the directions of the UT student body for its support or lack thereof of UT Athletics, specifically Men’s Basketball. Being a student I thought I’d attempt to offer a firsthand perspective on the issue. I think the lack of attendance this year can be summed up generally with one thing, bad timing.
It started as early as last year when it was announced that students would have to pay for football tickets. Before I get attacked for being a spoiled student, know that I kept a level head, completely understood the decision by the AD, happily purchased my season tickets and attended every game. However, this decision did change the mindset of a large part of the student body. We used to feel we were part of the atmosphere, we became paying customers. I understand this was inevitable and $90 for season tickets for SEC football is still a great deal but the timing of this couldn’t have been worse with how last season played out.
Football season, both the on field results and the fact that we were now paying to attend games put the student body in a sour mood.
The last time we experienced a football season like this was Bruce Pearl’s first year on the job. His timing was perfect. He walked into a fan base that was starving for something to cheer for. He was the perfect man to excite a crowd and his team was fast, exciting and full of surprises. Not only that, basketball games became giant parties. It seemed like every time you came out you were going to see something different, whether it was players handing out pizzas to the students waiting outside to Pearl himself standing on a soap box promising to whoop Florida’s (FULMERIZED). Pearl was a one man Marketing firm for UT hoops. He kept this approach the next two years; you never knew what you were going to see in Thompson Boling. Whether it was Pearl painting his chest or Pat Summit sporting a cheerleader outfit and singing Rocky Top to Dick Vitale surely something exciting was going down.
The Athletic Department started off in similar fashion, with the jumbotron cutting to Dane Bradshaw during a timeout against Gonzaga and rolling out the new coaching staff against Memphis. What changed? The difference was that these games ended in L’s for the Big Orange. It was confusing, it didn’t feel right, and surely we’re not supposed to lose at Thompson Boling?? When the team doesn’t come through in the end, it almost felt like all that promotion all that excitement and energy was a waste. I’m not saying that’s how it should feel I’m just saying that seemed to be the general sentiment. Those two games along with a lingering hangover from football season largely contributed to the apathy that seemed to grow as the season progressed.
Aside from Florida, we really didn’t have a home win that measured up to the hype and provided the excitement that we’d been spoiled by the previous three years. It became more and more noticeable that the magic just wasn’t quite there.
So where do we go from here? Does Bruce need to get back up on the soap box? Maybe he feels he shouldn’t have to at this point, but maybe that’s exactly what made him so special those first 3 years, and maybe that’s exactly what we need.