The Summit League’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments wrapped up today. From the outside looking in, the conference has never looked better. Sellout crowds at their tourney in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on ESPN2 have a soothing effect.
But that “neutral” site is anything but neutral and unlikely to change. South Dakota State just won the tournament this season (I picked them, FYI) and they’ll be the likely favorite heading into next season. And for the next two seasons, the conference tournament will remain in their backyard in Sioux Falls; 50 miles from campus for them.
The biggest problem for the Summit League is fans just don’t travel. Once upon a time, Valpo’s fans traveled. They also won the championship seven out of nine years. Oral Roberts fans traveled (until they didn’t have to when the conference parked the tournament in Tulsa for four years…a stone’s throw from ORU’s campus). The rest of the league is a gigantic meh.
Hell, IUPUI students won’t even come across the street for a home game these days. It’s stunning to me that on a campus of 27,000 we can’t find 500 students to pack the
student section Red Zone every home game. We packed the house every night while George Hill was a Jaguar. We need to get back to that atmosphere.
The 2012-13 season needs to be a reboot. We need a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground effort to canvas that campus starting right now to get students on the bandwagon. We need a packed Red Zone every night. We need a JagBand with 30 strong every night. We need two pack two buses full of students to go to the conference tournament next fall.
So how do we do it? We have to start right now. Start by canvassing the on-campus residences. Then the apartment complexes off campus. The local businesses around the campus. We find them wherever they are and recruit them.
I’m just tired of working a half-empty Jungle. We have fans—grown-ups—who come to our games and that’s great. But the real atmosphere is driven by the students. The wilder, the better. It’s time to get it started. It’s time for an on-campus marketing campaign to bring them back to the Jungle.
I’m going to start working with the athletics department on a plan to recruit students to generate on-campus support. All we need is about five students. I’m going to get those five to recruit 10 apiece. That’ll give us 55 to start with. We’ll bring those 55 together for a pizza party to tell them here’s how YOU will make your mark on IUPUI. Those 50 recruits will have a job: you are the core of the Red Zone. You are the noise makers, costume wearers, sign wavers. You 50 recruits will come to every home game. Period. And your job is to bring five people to every home game. Five became 55. Fifty-five became 305.
We will give you the shirts. We will give you the signs. You bring the noise.
I have a plan. Now let’s get to work.