Bumped. An important discussion beyond UCLA football focusing on UCLA as an institution and whether it cares enough about our major athletic programs. -BN
There has been a bunch of talk here all season about the problems with our offense and our defense. And there will be far more to come in the long off-season, so I won't throw out any of my thoughts on those topics here. No, I want to talk about an entirely different problem affecting UCLA Football (and, quite frankly, our other sports).
See, despite being the ONLY school with over 100 NCAA championships, I don't get the impression that UCLA, as an institution, really cares about any of this. Now, I'll be the first to tell you that universities should always put academics ahead of sports, and I'm proud to say I went to a school where this is, for the most part, a true statement (as opposed to that other "school" in LA). But when the institution takes an entirely apathetic view towards athletics, it reflects not only in the product on the field (court, pool, etc.), but in the stands too.
I attended UCLA from 2006-2010, and spent all four years living on the hill. I was an RA for the last 3 of those years, working in Dykstra, interacting with tons of incoming 1st years (and lots of spirited, dedicated 2nd and 3rd years!). I now live close to the school, and still stay in contact with younger friends who live on campus. And one thing I've noticed over all this time is how overwhelmingly apathetic the administration (athletic department, alumni association, etc.) is towards athletics.
Sure, they put up banners about getting to 100, and they put out their signboards on Bruin Walk, but never in my 4 years at UCLA did I ever feel like the university cared if I showed up to support our teams. There are a bunch of things I can point to, but I'll focus on football because that's what's really on our minds right now.
Consider the Rooter Bus they offer for students: they leave for the Rose Bowl only a few hours before kickoff, which means students who take it have very little chance to experience much pregame atmosphere. And, since the buses leave right after the game (and park about as far away as you can get from the student section gates), they often leave early, and don't get to experience the post-game atmosphere either. Of course, this can be overlooked when you consider the gametime atmosphere, right?
In 5 seasons of football, I've never seen the crowd more engaged and excited in a non-play aspect of the game than the Bruin Shuffle. I love the Bruin Shuffle myself, so this isn't a slam on it in any way, but I really think there's a problem when animated bears moving around to the "Hamster Dance" is the highlight of crowd engagement. There's no real defining aspect of the UCLA Football experience I can point to. Think about the more dominant teams in the Pac-10 as of late: U$C* has their dude in a dress march onto the field, and stab a sword into the ground, to the erupting cheers of the morons in the stands. Stanford has their absurd tree and equally ridiculous band. Oregon has a Donald Duck impersonator do pushups for every point they get, and crowd surf seemingly all the time.
And yes, you'll notice I have a more negative tone in describing these, but that's because they aren't my schools. The students and fans at those schools? They LOVE these things. Their fans get SO fired up over these seemingly ridiculous aspects of their gameday. And these are things you see on pregame shows. What do we have that sends the Rose Bowl into a fired up frenzy? The "Hamster Dance". Surely we can do better.
I know this is something that's been talked about before, but where's our unified color in the stadium? Everybody wears different shades of blue, with gray, yellow, white, and all other kinds of neutral colors at the Rose Bowl. At the game on Saturday, there were two distinctly red sections, and a bunch of fairly spattered blue everywhere else. Not that we didn't show up in UCLA gear, but it's all so different looking that it's hard to get that sense of unity.
UCLA puts its students, arguably the most passionate fans, off in a corner of the stadium, right next to general admission (on the "sunny side", which can be really uncomfortable during the midday games - which we get a LOT of). Half the time, the band performs in the direction of the press box, so they even get shafted on that. When I went to our game at Cal my first year with my friend from high school, I found myself on the 50 yard line, surrounded by extremely fired up students, crowd-surfing after every touchdown. It was a more fired-up student section than I've ever seen at the Rose Bowl; and I was there for 13-9.
In these 5 seasons, I haven't experienced any black-out (or white-out, or blue-out) games. Nothing like the Huskie's blackout on senior night against us. Why can't we do that? Why don't other teams worry about coming to the Rose Bowl and facing a fired up crowd?
Somebody at UCLA is responsible for letting the trogan band perform on our field at halftime, for letting them STAB THEIR SWORD IN OUR FIELD. Why would we do that? Our university is too nice to do anything else. When we do our card stunt, we always show off the opponent's logo, as a sign of "respect". I'm not saying we need to disrespect our opponents, because we're definitely above that, but do we need to celebrate them?
Do we need the UCLA Athletics Twitter account encouraging students to come out to a "contest with high-scoring Houston", just days after we got shut out by Stanford? THAT is supposed to get us fired up?
And this is all just football, one of two big revenue sports. The turnout for our other sports, ones that consistently compete for championships, is pretty poor, when you consider how often they rank so highly! But when I lived on campus, I rarely knew about when these games were, and there was no push to get people there. There was no environment to look forward to at all.
Now, this is a lot of stuff, some of which people will agree with, some of which people won't. I get that - this is just my perspective (and I'd be curious to hear from other current students and recent grads). But I think one thing most people would agree with is that, when it comes to football, our fan base isn't super inspired. Some attribute this to a lackluster product, but I put the blame more on the school. I don't see a big push for UCLA pride, and I think that reflects in our fans.
Sometimes (definitely more often than I'd like), I find myself wondering if UCLA is comprised of actual UCLA fans, or just people who hate U$C*. Obviously, the former should imply the latter, but the other direction isn't necessarily true. I remember somebody showing up to the Beat SC bonfire a few years ago in a red and gold shirt - it was the one that switches the letters to read SUC, but still. He was wearing red, not blue. And, when I think more about it, we call the rally the "Beat SC" rally. This comes before the "SC game". It seems to me that we focus more on disliking U$C*, and that was reflected during the game, where the students in my section spent the entire game harassing one trogan fan (there as a guest of a Bruin) with increasingly vulgar, homophobic slurs. It was downright disgraceful, and they were doing it at the expense of cheering on our team.
There are numerous problems with our team that need to be addressed this offseason, but our school itself, and the fans, need to really step it up, and make UCLA something to be proud of, even in rough times.