The TCU football team plays two halves. Halftime is not the end of the game and time to leave. Support your team.
These words, and others like them, filled my Facebook news feed last Saturday night after the TCU Horned Frogs beat the Portland State Vikings 55-13 in front of almost 34,000 fans.
It is worth clarifying, however, that the game did not end with all those fans in their seats or even in the stadium. You can blame the near-shutout performance by our frogs. You can blame the heat. You can blame the Baylor Bears for ensuring that our Rose Bowl Champions won’t repeat last year’s success. You can blame “fickle frog fans.”
I blame Gary Patterson.
Now, make no mistake about it, Gary Patterson is the best coach in college football. He takes three- and four-star athletes and molds them into professional, six-figure athletes. He is on the verge of Dutch Meyer’s all-time win record at TCU—and he’ll be here long enough to shatter it. Most TCU students probably feel that Gary Patterson has done more for their individual school pride than any professor or alumni could ever hope to do. I feel the same way.
I don’t blame Gary Patterson for being a bad coach—I blame him for making TCU Athletics think his performance matters. Even last year, with our beloved quarterback making everyone think “this is the year,” it was common to see empty seats in the upper corners of Amon G. Carter Stadium. Another common sight is the exodus of fans at half time—a sight probably very similar to what the real Exodus must have looked like. TCU fans are leaving for the same reason the Israelites left Egypt—they’re escaping slavery for the promise of something better.
Because of the deep connections that many people create with their respective universities, there is an expectation that fans should support their teams through thick and thin. Some can understand why attendance might fall in those thin times, but shoddy attendance in these very thick times has many people confused. “Support your team,” my Facebook wall would say. “Why should we,” I would say.
Though I’m proud of my school, I am not a slave to it—or its athletics programs. Like it or not, college football is a business. While this means that there are opportunities to develop the university through commerce, it also means that athletic programs have to fight harder for people’s time and money—two things that are very scarce these days.
Whether or not the athletes on the field are competitive, no football game alone can compete with people’s other entertainment options, which, in my case, was marketing homework. When every supplier is fighting hard for people’s time and money (and air conditioning drives a pretty hard bargain), TCU football has to fight harder.
As of right now, a TCU football game is just a game. Some of you may be asking why students don’t stay for games, but I am asking why they would. Whether the team is winning or losing, it won’t matter unless the game is more than a game. The Dallas Cowboys, my employer, are proof that, in this competitive entertainment market, winning doesn’t matter. In my opinion, by rarely allowing players to speak to media and hardly giving even a tease of what’s going on inside the team, Gary Patterson does more to hurt TCU football’s attendance than he does to help it by winning a Rose Bowl. Fans don’t want victories, Gary Patterson—they want to be a part of them.