A sold-out 80,000-seat stadium filled with cheering masses of people adorned in black and gold, a marching band playing the school fight song, a million-dollar TV contract, and loads of dollars in alumni support.
College sports are big business É in the United States.
In Canada, and specifically at Dalhousie, things are much different. In fact a recent survey commissioned by the Office of the Vice-President of Student Services revealed some troubling numbers with regards to the level of support for varsity athletics at Dalhousie. The survey, voluntarily completed by students online, showed little to no support for most varsity sports.
More than 5,000 students completed the survey, 3,917 of them undergraduates. A mere one per cent of respondents indicated they attend varsity sports events on a weekly basis, and four per cent on a monthly basis, while 81 per cent responded that they never have or never plan to attend any varsity event.
There are many theories to explain this apparent apathy and here are a few: Dalhousie is located in a dynamic urban centre where there are many entertainment choices; Dalhousie has a diverse student population and thus a segmented campus with no real school spirit; Dalhousie is a serious educational institution and not a party school.
ÒAt Dalhousie itÕs not like in Antigonish where the games are a place to gather. Here, there are 25 things a student can do on any night,” says Maurice Chiasson, president of the official Dalhousie booster organization, the Black and Gold Club. ÒGetting students out to the games on a regular basis is something you have to feed and nurture.”
And Chiasson doesnÕt buy into the non-party school theory: ÒThere are lots of kids at Dal who love sports, who follow sports and watch them on TV, but it has always been a challenge to get that to translate into going to Tigers games.”
School spirit may be hard to harness, but it is there.
ÒYou look at the record crowds we had this year for the Rod Shoveller Memorial Basketball Tournament, or the people that came out for the menÕs volleyball playoffs and you canÕt tell me there isnÕt any school spirit here,” says Krista Hynes, senior manager of marketing and member services at the Department of Athletics and Recreational Services. SheÕs responsible for the promotion of varsity athletics to both students and the general public.
Hynes also points to the beginnings of a grassroots movement among student leaders.
ÒWeÕve seen great sparks of interest from the student booster club ÔThe Ambush,Õ and we get great coverage in the Gazette, so I think there is that recognition out there of what our student athletes are doing and what it means to the university on a larger scale.”
While the crowds may not be large, they are very loyal and vocal, she adds. And not just from Dal, but from the wider community. Bill Spurr, features writer for the Halifax Herald, agrees: ÒThe basketball community comes out to basketball games; the hockey community comes out to hockey games. They realize that university sport is the best quality sport they are going to see locally, and that includes the Mooseheads.”
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