On The Wing: We have the best team in two decades, yet, where are the students?



Student crowds, like this one against Niagara earlier this season, have been rare at the Koessler Athletic Center (or the Memorial Auditorium) for 30-plus years. (Justin Fague/The Griffin)


By Marshall Haim

Sports Editor

New year, same column.

It isn’t the first time that the The Griffins Sports Editor is writing a column that has the same exact message. I follow in the footsteps of Mike Harrington, Janine Joseph and Mark Ciemcioch just to name a few.

Harrington’s column appeared in the Feb. 14, 1986 edition when the Griffs had an 18-4 record. Joseph’s Dec. 2, 1994 column showed up in The Griffin when Canisius was a mere 3-1 before going 21-14, making it to the semifinal game of the NIT. Ciemcioch’s column was featured in the Dec. 1, 1995 paper, the year Canisius last made the NCAA Tournament.

You know what the common thread with those three teams and this years team? They’re all very good.

The only problem is that the students, still, aren’t showing up to games.

During Canisius’ 81-63 win over Fairfield on Monday night at the Koessler Athletic Center there was about 50 students in the north end zone. Fifty.

Now for the “woah moment.”

In Harrington’s column he wrote 32 years to this week, “Through their 10 home games thus far, the Golden Griffins have drawn an average attendance of 2,087 fans per contest (granted they only played three games at the KAC, the rest were played at the Memorial Auditorium that could house around 17,000 spectators for basketball). … The numbers suggest a team struggling in the standings, one that does not entertain. But as we know, Canisius is currently on a 12-game winning streak, one shy of last year’s record and the third-longest in the nation.”

Joseph wrote her column pertaining toward the new ticket policy that was introduced at the Koessler Athletic Center and the Memorial Auditorium. Students were forced to get tickets behind the cheerleaders at the KAC, or in the standing room sections at the Memorial Auditorium, which was unheard during their time.

“Maybe, just maybe, there’s something special about playing in front of one’s own friends and classmates, who are behind you all the way, cheering and making sure the bad guys know they’re there,” she wrote. “After all, why is there a such a thing as ‘home court advantage,’ anyway? This is because of the Fan, and not the stodgy old alumni, not the families of four, not the local businessmen, but the real Fan, the one who is going to make a little noise—the students.”

Ciemcioch concludes his column by powerfully saying, “Students at this school should take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them. I can’t stress enough to go out and see your fellow students compete. Would you rather see a team that can actually compete for an NCAA Tournament bid or the Canisius team of years past that got their butts handed to them on a regular basis by everybody. It’s your choice.”

My turn.

In Monday’s game against Fairfield, the crowd was announced at 1,011, a worrisome trend all season long especially with how good this team is. Canisius has had 12 home games this season — in which the Griffs are 10-2 — and the team is averaging just over 1,200 fans per game. That ranks fifth worst in the MAAC out of 11 teams.

Canisius has won 14 of their last 16 games, including their last five. Canisius is 18-9 overall and 12-2 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play. It is the best start to MAAC play for the Griffs since joining the conference in 1989-90.

I guarantee this is the year that Canisius snaps their 21-year NCAA Tournament drought or their 22-year drought of not appearing in the NIT.

Yet it appears the students have no care in the world about the best sports team on campus right now.

You, as the student, could be at games witnessing the best Canisius basketball team in the last two decades. You could see the MAAC Player of the Year in Isaiah Reese and the Coach of the Year in Reggie Witherspoon. (Both of them rightfully deserve those accolades, but I’ll leave that for another column.)

But no, students don’t want to go. For full disclosure, those that attend games on a regular basis — thank you.

Is it because those who went to their first-ever Canisius basketball game and saw them lose and you were marred?

“Instead of being able to walk into Koessler before the game and sit down to enjoy the game, one now has to go to the Student Center sometime the week before the game to get one ticket by showing an ID. Seems reasonable, right?” Joseph wrote.

Indeed it does.

That same policy has been in place since that column appeared in The Griffin in 1994.

This isn’t a school like major Division I programs that most likely charge their students to get in the door. There is no money involved here. None.

Yes, I know Canisius is still considered a commuter school, I’m one of them. If I wasn’t covering games for The Griffin and working ESPN3 broadcasts, I would go to games. I would make time out of my schedule to attend home games as much as I could because it is my school and I enjoy sports.

It is a shame that the students only show up for one game a year, which is always against Niagara. Even then, this season the Purple Eagles invaded the Koessler Athletic Center and scored over the century mark for the first time ever at the KAC. Canisius’ student section was completely purged with eight minutes left in the second half because their team was losing by 14 points.

But when it comes to two weeks from now, a bus load of students will be heading down Interstate 90 to Albany to watch Canisius play in the MAAC Tournament.

How does that support all of sudden show up? Is it because you get out of a day or two of classes and you’re going on a road trip and get to enjoy yourselves that the student’s support just pops out of nowhere?

Here’s a concept: Show up to the home games first before you go on a four-hour bus ride for the MAAC Tournament.


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