By Chris Overmeyer
The student section at basketball games this season has been a wash of blue — as in empty seats.
A peek at the student section during Saturday, Feb. 28’s men’s basketball game between Nevada and San Jose State revealed a sea of empty blue seats. There were maybe 50 students at the game and that’s being generous. Even a Saturday, college-friendly tip off wasn’t enough to draw more student support.
Chants, or any noise whatsoever, were largely stagnant from the direction of the student section all game long, sans from the band.
The game wasn’t an anomaly, either. Instead it’s been a season-long, even years-long, trend with student support at Wolf Pack games.
It has seemingly hit rock bottom as of late. Earlier this season in a home game against Air Force on Jan. 3, the Nevada athletic department offered a “be a student for a game” promotion. The promotion offered $6 tickets and fans an opportunity to sit in the student section.
The low numbers have been especially demoralizing to Blue Crew president Jake Pinocchio. The outgoing senior would like to see the student booster club restarted from scratch.
“I would like to see more change with it going forward,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to keep people accountable… I’d like to see kind of a restart with it and getting more accountability from people. A lot of people say ‘I’m part of Blue Crew’ but only a small percentage know what it really means.”
As of now, Blue Crew is funded by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno and an arm of its $374,388 programming board. Blue Crew is allocated roughly $20,000 from there, according to Pinnocchio.
The budget isn’t the most pressing issue, either. Blue Crew is notorious for first-come, first-served free giveaways — including Brock Hekking-inspired mullets, sleeves, pink towels, t-shirts and tailgate food this season.
However, Pinocchio sees the benefit of straying away from ASUN in favor of a due-based membership club. The dynamic shift would solve what Pinnocchio views as Blue Crew’s chief problem: accountability.
“If you join a club and pay $50, you’d be more obligated to go to events,” he said. “However, if we did charge a membership fee, we wouldn’t get ASUN funding and have less money to do events. There’s pros and cons with both.”
Blue Crew can’t deny membership to students as long as they’re funded by ASUN. As the school grows in record numbers, so to does Blue Crew, which has swelled to more than 5,000 registered students. Pinocchio stressed the huge numbers makes it hard to establish a personal touch with each member, having to resort to mass emails instead.
So where have the 5,000 fans been during basketball season?
A possible explanation for the minimal support has been the performance of both basketball programs. The men’s team sits at 9-19 and 10th in the Mountain West Conference. The women’s team isn’t much better at 8-19 and second-to-last in the MWC.
“I think there’s definitely a correlation between attendance and how a team plays,” Pinocchio said. “I hate to say that because I wish everyone supported the Pack no matter what. It’s not that they’re fairweather fans, it’s just the reality.”
Even the usual Wolf Pack diehards have been largely invisible in the student section. The sash and sandal-wearing J.C. has been MIA from basketball games. The loyal Nevada follower assured he hasn’t lost faith in Nevada, rather he has been swamped helping Royce Feuer during his ASUN presidential campaign.
However, as official unofficial face of Wolf Pack fans, J.C. points to tradition as one of the reasons for low student turnout.
“We have a lot of potential for tradition … We need to find our identity,” J.C. said. “In football, we have the Pistol offense and cannon, but basketball is lacking. While most basketball programs get their identity from their success, the winning tradition hasn’t been established here yet.”
Pinocchio has thrown ideas at Nevada for possible new traditions, including the Wolf Pack Walk beginning at Morrill Hall and players touching Mackay statue or even creating a sandbox for football players to smash with an ax before the game. The suggestions have all fallen on deaf ears inside the athletic department.
On top of tradition, engagement between student-athletes and Blue Crew members is also nonexistent, according to Pinocchio. He envisions future Blue Crew events to have Wolf Pack players present and talking with fans.
In a perfect world, Pinocchio wants Blue Crew to replicate the Cameron Crazies, made famous by Duke’s basketball student section.
Pinocchio even had an idea of separating the Wolf Pack’s student section into two brands — Mackay Maniacs for football and Lawlor Lunatics for basketball — which was shot down by the Nevada athletic department and his three-man executive board.
“I don’t think there’s a real problem with Blue Crew right now,” Pinocchio said. “I just always feel you can better an organization. We just got to keep supporting our teams.”
J.C. has his own rally cry to students.
“Going to the games and being social, that’s what really helps encapsulate a university experience,” J.C. said. “Just because you don’t know the game or your team isn’t too great, that shouldn’t hinder you from going to the game. You should want to go because you’re going to have a fun time.”
Eric Uribe can be reached at euribe@nevadasagebrush. unr.edu and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.