In April of 2010, author Tim Forbes embarked on a one-year “sports walkabout” that took him across the country to 100 sporting events involving 50 completely different sports. Why? Well, it’s complicated. His journey and ultimate discoveries about the true value of sports were published in the book “It’s Game Time Somewhere” (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2013).
They really tried. They honestly did.
When the NCAA was faced with the fact that their Men’s National Volleyball Championships would wind up being held on the home court of one of the four teams that had played their way into the semi-finals, they forged ahead and did what they’d normally do were it a truly neutral site. They allocated equal seating to fans of each of the four finalists. They displayed filmed promos from each team on the video board. Separately and equally. They held their breath. But Stanford University doesn’t do neutrality well.
It was calm when I arrived at Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus. Then again, it was 45 minutes before the first semi-final was to start. It was still fairly quiet at 6:00, when Penn State and Cal State Northridge began play. I watched in relative solitude from a prime seat in the upper deck as underdog Penn State claimed their spot in the national title game, winning in straight sets, 30–21, 30–23 and 30–28.
By 7:45 it was no longer calm nor quiet. The crazies had arrived.
The tickets that the NCAA had allocated to Stanford fans were undeniably in a prime viewing location. But that’s not where the real action was. The Stanford band, having been supplanted from its usual courtside game location, had set up shop behind one of the end lines, way up in the upper reaches of the General Admission seats. And just below them had assembled a collection of people whose dress could only charitably be called “eccentric.” It looked as if a tag sale had been pillaged and its entire contents turned over to the most creative minds in a university known for ingenuity. Loud it was. Neutral it was not. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself …
No matter your opinion of the NCAA, they do know how to produce an event. The video highlights show that played on the scoreboard between games was every bit as full of goosebump-generating content as any professional franchise creates to entertain their fans. This particular extravaganza of video clips, however, covered the full spectrum of sports for which a national collegiate championship is conducted. I lost track of how many there were.
Noticeably absent from the collage were March Madness highlights or anything from the BCS bowl games. This was probably due to legalities, image rights, blah, blah, blah…but for a moment I allowed myself the delusionary thought that this was a subtle way of reminding everyone that even those college sports that don’t receive mass market attention matter intensely. For the record, I also believe in the Easter Bunny.
Prior to the introduction of the teams at each semi-final game, the video board displayed short recordings of coaches and players from both teams, all of whom thanked their fans for coming out to support them. The production quality was excellent, and each message came across as sincere and heartfelt. Sporting just the right level of hokey-ness, it was a bit like a series of toasts at a wedding reception comprised mostly of very tall guests. One of the more creative spots featured Cal State Northridge’s 5’7” Ali’i Keohohou barely occupying the same visual frame as his teammate, the 7’2” Jacek Ratajczak.
When the time came for player introductions, that involved some significant fan-friendliness as well. The entire squad was individually recognized on each team, and when their name was announced, each player jogged onto the court and threw a foam replica volleyball about the size of a grapefruit into the section of stands that housed their fans. To Stanford’s credit, their spread the wealth throughout the stands, even sending one our way in the unaffiliated section of the stands. It bounced around behind us and finally trickled down into the aisle next to me. Trying my best to look nonchalant, I edged over, only to see my souvenir joyously scooped up by a delighted pre-pubescent volleyballer. I figured it would be bad form to tackle the greedy little monster.