At my high school — albeit, a small high school in central Illinois — most of the town would attend basketball games. While that’s somewhat normal for a little farm town, our teams were spoiled because of the home court advantage the crowd created.
When I came to Loyola last year, I expected a similar atmosphere. My parents went to a fellow Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) school, Illinois State University, so I knew MVC basketball had quite a large following.
When I went to the home opener last season, I was shocked by how few students showed up. On top of that, the students that attended were almost silent during the game. I talked to head coach Porter Moser about getting students out to games before the opener, but I didn’t realize how bad it was.
I tried my best to get people out. I would always tell my friends about a game and suggest they should come out because Loyola has an exciting team. Moser even wrote an opinion piece in The Phoenix after a win over San Diego State University last season. He shouldn’t have to do that.
An average of only 306 students came to men’s basketball games, according to Loyola’s ticket office. As of 2015, more than 16,000 students attend Loyola. Attendance is way too low considering the men’s basketball team went 13-3 at Gentile Arena last season.
With the new season set to tip off Nov. 10, the department has been working on a new initiative for the student section. This season, Loyola has moved the student section from the corner of Gentile Arena to the sideline across from the benches.
The student section also has a new name: “The Pack.”
The Pack has been in the works since the end of last season, according to Loyola Director of Marketing Marcus Mercer. The department got students together at the end of the school year to get input on “building an identity” for the student section. This is what Loyola athletics needs. I’m glad the department is making steps toward increasing student attendance.
While The Pack has had meetings during the offseason, Mercer said any student can join by simply going to games. Most meeting attendees have been first-year students, and Mercer said the goal is to include students from all classes.
“If you come and you’re at the games, you’re a member of The Pack,” Mercer said.
Junior Marty Breslin, an intern in the athletics department and one of the head members of The Pack, said The Pack is all about getting students involved with athletics.
“What The Pack is trying to do is to get more students engaged with the athletics department,” Breslin said. “Obviously we’re starting with men’s basketball, but we would like it to expand to all sports.”
Before The Pack, the former student section was called the “Rambler Rowdies.” Breslin said it went from a group of people to just some roommates coming out to games by the end of last season. Honestly, I’ve never even heard of the Rambler Rowdies, if that’s any indication of how popular it was last season.
After noticing this, Breslin said multiple people in the athletics department wanted a change.
“When we noticed that no students were coming to the game and they weren’t really getting involved [it] was like ‘Oh, we probably need a student section,’” Breslin said. “It was something … a lot of people wanted. It was just coming together after the end of the season.”
For the men’s basketball home opener, Breslin said there are multiple events planned to break in the new student section. Members of The Pack will meet residents of first-year residence halls and march to the Damen Den for a pep rally before going to Gentile Arena for the game.
In a press conference after an exhibition game against Lewis University, Moser said he feels the student body can be a game-changer for the team during the season.
“Being … a part of college basketball, we need the students,” Moser said. “The students are part of our team. [They] are 100 percent needed and wanted, and we can have an unbelievable atmosphere in [Gentile Arena].”
It takes five minutes to walk across campus. That’s not too much time to take a study break and go watch basketball for a couple hours. Moser shouldn’t have to beg for student support at games.
With the new opportunity of The Pack, I feel that if a student is a basketball fan, they shouldn’t be missing out on a game — men’s or women’s. I fully expect the men’s team to make a run at the MVC title, and winning fills the stands. On the women’s side, students can watch the program grow over the next couple years.
The Pack is a chance to show school spirit, and I know firsthand that the student-athletes appreciate seeing their peers in the stands.
I cover Loyola sports. But when I’m not writing about the Ramblers, I’m cheering for them. I’ll be at all the games I can attend this year, and I’d love to have other students there with me.