ESPN personality, Terps athletics supporter and noted fan base evaluator Scott Van Pelt was in College Park on Saturday for Maryland’s 27-26 win over Virginia. He was happy with the result, of course. He was not happy with the small swath of students who saw it. Starting at the 35:30 mark of Monday’s “SVP and Russillo” broadcast, you can hear his rant on what it means to be a fan, and why Saturday’s 41,077 attendance figure was such a disappointment. Or you can read the transcript below:
Van Pelt: I’m probably going to get in trouble back in College Park for this one, but some things need to be said. When I was a kid, I used to go to Byrd Stadium to see Maryland football games with my dad, and one thing I always used to look forward to the most was the student section. It was packed, it was raucous. Sometimes, they would chant things that I didn’t understand. Sometimes, they would hold up signs that I didn’t understand — I do now. They were naughty. But the students were great. They were passionate. And when I went to remember, when I went to Maryland, rather, I remembered nearly suffering a heat stroke sitting in the student section as a sophomore, the Terps fumbled away a game late and lost to Penn State — again. I think I was wearing Jams. They were so sweet.
Russillo: They were.
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Van Pelt: Sweet Jams. Saturday, I wanted to puke. As the Terps were fighting desperately to hang on to beat Virignia, a rival they were playing for the last time, the Cavaliers were driving into the teeth of the student section that was, I don’t know, three-quarters empty, maybe half-empty. Whatever it was, empty seats outnumbered students. First game against Florida International, the student section was packed, but it was a blowout, and it was hot, so in the second half, it was crickets. This Saturday, it was raining for a little while. Heavens, no! Raining! I don’t know why they left, but by the end of the game, the student section is mostly empty. I don’t get it. You get four years to be young. Now some of us took a little longer to get done, but we’re talking about six Saturdays a year. It’s a three-hour investment of your time to cheer for your team. It’s not a burden. You shouldn’t have to be bribed with hot dogs to stay in the second half. There are two halves of a freakin’ game. Like, if you went to a movie, would you leave halfway through? Like, hey, was it a good movie? Yeah, it was really good, and then I left. Why?
Russillo: What if you could leave the movie and talk to girls and drink? Or if you knew you would do that?
Van Pelt: You could watch the movie later. Now this might be old-fashioned, but I’d like to think that even if your team’s lousy, that it’s part of the collegiate experience at a school as big as Maryland — admittedly, the last two years were something of a struggle — but this year, the Terps are actually doing well. They’re 5-1. Students can help create a home-field advantage. Instead, it’s like home-field indifference at the end of a home game that the team won by a point. You have the rest of your life to be in a big, fat hurry, to be jaded about stuff, but you’re young. Just slow down, enjoy it. And don’t hit me with the studying part, because even back in the day, we used to have tests and stuff, too, and we figured out a way. Tests aren’t new. We just found room six Saturdays a year to go to Byrd Stadium.
Van Pelt then used Saturday’s showing as a jumping-off point for the larger crisis of dwindling fan support at college football outposts like Georgia, Oregon, even Alabama. Maybe, Van Pelt suggested, "It’s different now."
Van Pelt: It’s so ultracompetitive to get into college that the types of students who are fighting to get in, the types of students that colleges are fighting for, are more focused, they’re more driven, they’re more accomplished than I ever was or dreamt of being. Maybe these students just see it as a waste of time, and they can only budget a certain amount of time in their busy schedules. I don’t know. But there’s an old line from a song, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Have fun! Go to games! They’re fun! And if you go, then stay! If it’s a close game against a rival, you might actually remember it fondly some day.