Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

In concert with this discussion: another post with a link to a spreadsheet with attendance information for the last 50 years at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with a brief explanation.

The atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium has been a hot topic among Bulldog supporters for quite a while. It has moved to the forefront of alumni discussion/interest in the last two weeks. This is due mostly to an alumni-organized campaign, one with a goal of having the seating for the corps of cadets moved back to the west stands.

I decided to write “moved back” instead of “returned” in the above paragraph because, historically, the cadets have not always sat on that side. However, it is true that the corps has occupied the west stands for almost the entirety of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium (since 1948), up until the modern renovations to the facility were completed in 2008.

To be honest, I am not really on board with the campaign, though I respect those who are. I’m not going to lead the opposition, assuming there actually is an opposition.

However, my contention has always been that the issues related to corps interest and participation have very little to do with where they are seated, and everything to do with A) the general lack of enthusiasm for team sports in the corps as a whole; and B) the overall stadium experience. Neither of those issues can be addressed by moving the cadets from one side of the stadium to the other.

Regarding the sporting interests of the cadets, I wrote this several years ago, and I think it still applies:

What I believe…is that by and large graduates of The Citadel are significantly less likely to be natural supporters of the school’s athletic teams than, say, alums of larger state schools.

Not only are there more students at larger schools, but a higher percentage of those students grow up rooting for that particular school.  Quite a few of them actually choose to go to a school based on their lifelong support of its athletic teams.  Those students eventually graduate, and so there is a fairly sizable base of true-blue fans just from that group.

Nobody who is not on athletic scholarship chooses to go to The Citadel because of its varsity sports teams.  Because of this, I think that a smaller percentage of its students are destined to become lifelong devoted fans of college football, hoops, etc.  That’s true of most small schools, of course.

(I believe The Citadel has fewer sports fans among its students than even among other small schools, however — at least, that was my impression when I was in school.  That also applied to things tangentially related to sports.  Was there buzz on campus for Bull Durham or Hoosiers?  No.  Full Metal Jacket, yes, a thousand times yes.)

That makes the fact the athletic teams are supported as well as they are by the alumni all the more remarkable.  I think it has a lot to do with the natural camaraderie built up by four years in the corps of cadets.

Alums come back for the games, but they really come back to see each other, or just to be part of the experience that is The Citadel again, even for just a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a nice vibe, complete with the justly-celebrated tailgating scene (which may be too good a scene when it comes to trying to increase attendance inside the stadium).

That was true in 2009, and I believe it’s still true in 2014.

Personally, I wonder if a better idea might be to spread the cadets out a bit in the east stands, maybe seating them between the 30s, but not that high up in the seats (but not so low they don’t have a good view of the action). I could see arguments against that, to be sure.

However, what I really want to discuss is the stadium experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which I think needs serious improvement. Now, a lot of people would argue that the corps of cadets is the essential part of that experience.

I would completely agree, and that’s the problem right now with football games at The Citadel. The focus is not on the corps. Instead it’s on…the videoboard.

I’m glad we have a videoboard. I’m sure it’s great for recruiting. I’m also sure that it’s driven me (and many other fans) crazy over the last few years.

By “videoboard”, incidentally, I’m referring not only to the board itself, but the accompanying sound system and its musical cues (some of which aren’t very musical).

The overuse of the videoboard has led to the following:

- The band rarely gets to play during the game, because of restrictions designed to maximize advertising opportunities. This has to change.

I can see somebody ready to say “gotta pay the bills”. Okay, but then explain why the band has to sit on its hands while the sound system plays a wide variety of pop and hip-hop music. There isn’t any advertising going on then.

In what should be a bucolic small-college football setting, made unique by the presence of the corps of cadets, Johnson Hagood Stadium has instead been turned into a would-be outdoor NBA arena circa 1995.

It doesn’t work. It turns people off. Not all of those people it turns off are old, by the way.

There are times when a musical choice can liven up the crowd and/or corps. In 2012, playing “Gangnam Style” once during the game was a solid option. In 2013, not so much.

In no year would playing “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners be a solid option, but at one point that tune (I’m using the word “tune” loosely here) was unleashed on unsuspecting fans last season. Why couldn’t the band play during that time period? Heck, if somebody really wanted to listen to that song so badly, why not let the band play it?

As a result, we have situations in which the opposing school’s pep band shows up and plays more (a lot more, actually) during the game than our band, because the opposing band doesn’t have any restrictions on when it can play. It’s ridiculous.

Possibly the classic example of sound system overkill came during last year’s game against Furman. The freshmen cadets lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation, and began a “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant…only to be completely drowned out by the loudspeaker, as someone decided that was the ideal time to play an offering from the 1980s glam-rock band Poison.

Speaking of the “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant, occasionally the sound system will play a taped version of it, apparently in an effort to have it catch on with the crowd. It doesn’t really work that way; at The Citadel, that particular chant has to be organic in its origination.

Also, I am not certain the chant in that form should be played over the speaker system anyway, as canned crowd noise could be construed as an “artificial noisemaker”, which is not allowed in the Southern Conference.

A few other points about the videoboard:

- I think the spots featuring John Rosa and Larry Leckonby are run too close to the actual kickoff time. They probably need to be pushed back about ten minutes or so.

- The “come on, let’s go” clip featuring defensive players needs to be either reworked or junked. It doesn’t do anything to excite the fans; in truth, it’s more mocked than anything else. One problem is that it’s the go-to clip far too often.

- If we’re going to show things on the videoboard, why not more 15-second vignettes highlighting the personal sides (and personalities) of individual players? And not just from the football team. It’s the ideal time to promote our other sports.

It doesn’t have to feature athletes, either. The most well received spot on the videoboard that I remember was a message from astronaut Randy Bresnik.

(As Bresnik was in the regimental band as a cadet, I’ll bet he thinks the band should play more too.)

- I don’t really mind the sponsored red zone and first down tags. I’m mildly surprised Avis doesn’t sponsor second down, though.

- The “air raid siren” that plays when The Citadel’s defense forces a third down attempt seems to usually result in a first down for the opponent. It does cause permanent hearing loss for those in attendance, however, so you can’t say it doesn’t have any effect at all.

While I’m concentrating on the videoboard in this post, there are other gameday issues that need to be resolved. Just to name a couple:

- The lack of cheerleaders is unacceptable. Here are my suggestions:

1) In order to alleviate some of the reported problems the corps has had with regards to the squad, don’t let freshmen be cheerleaders.

2) I would open up tryouts for cheerleaders to female College of Charleston students. I don’t think that is unreasonable or politically incorrect.

CofC doesn’t have a football team, and here is an opportunity for The Citadel to add to its fan base. I would compare it to the Stray Dog Society in this respect.

Obviously any upperclass female cadet interested in cheerleading should be given every opportunity to make the squad. Right now, though, we have to face reality. There just aren’t that many female cadets at The Citadel; additionally, the subsets of “women attending a military college” and “women who love cheerleading” probably don’t intersect on a regular basis.

- This is not something I really lose sleep over, but the administration might be surprised to learn how many people are upset the concession stands don’t provide cups/ice any more. If it’s feasible, bring back the plastic cups.

- If we have issues with cadets not behaving properly during games (and by this I mean lounging/sleeping/etc.), then maybe there should be some “enforcers”. Back in ancient times, there was never a shortage of junior rankholders more than willing to assume such a role.

It doesn’t really matter what side of the stadium holds the corps, from that perspective. Maybe the folks at Jenkins Hall need to make it a point of emphasis (though I am generally not in the business of telling them how to do their jobs).

- I’ve read the SoCon regulations regarding student/visitor seating. Here’s a link:

Regulations

As for the theory that the corps has to sit on the “home side” because to do otherwise would be against conference rules, it doesn’t really hold up once you actually read the relevant sections. I liked how SoCon senior associate commissioner Geoff Cabe thought it might be in the “spirit” of the rules for the cadets to be relocated to the west stands, though.

Ah, the SoCon, always looking out for The Citadel. That’s why there are so many representatives of The Citadel in the league’s Hall of Fame.

- One thing about the corps that does need to be managed better is the number of cadets who aren’t in the stands. I think this was a bigger problem four or five years ago than it was in 2013, but it’s best to remain vigilant.

Last year at the Appalachian State game, a friend of mine and I counted the number of cadets in several rifle companies as they marched into the stadium. There were about 65-70 cadets in each company, which is clearly not as many as you would expect. Some of the missing did wind up in the stadium, but not all of them did.

Occasionally you do hear reports of random cadets who are in the area but not in the stadium. Very few things annoy alums more, and with good reason.

- Also in the area but not in the stadium (or at least, not in their seats): far too many people in the PSL sections. I’m not sure how much “connection” there would be with a corps move to the west stands if those seats aren’t filled anyway.

Ultimately, there is only one thing that will probably lead to all those seats being occupied by kickoff. The team has to start winning again.

Winning more games is also the magic elixir that will solve most of the issues related to the stadium atmosphere. However, to maximize the fun of a gameday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the emphasis on the videoboard has to be reduced.

The spotlight for home football games should always shine on the cadets — those on the field, and those in the stands.

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One Response

  1. As in every case, I always get a lot out of your post/articles. As one of the advocates of moving the corps to the home side, I will assure you the video board coordination with the band is a part of the mission. Your points (if the move is approved) will not be lost in the change. Go Dogs!! Jim Maxon (load option) Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2014 01:44:46 +0000 To: kjmaxon@msn.com

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