Earlier this week, The UConn Blog columnist Shawn McGrath published an interesting and insightful piece discussing UConn Football’s need to move back on campus from Rentschler Field in East Hartford. He talked about how the Huskies are an outlier in the FBS in terms of stadium location, and how little sense it makes to have them playing more than 20 miles from Storrs.
On the surface, I generally agree with McGrath’s sentiment. As a student, it would be nice to not have to travel a half hour to the Rent. Despite this, it’s not a necessary change – here’s why:
The first thing that’s important to address is that the Rent not filling up has become a chicken-and-egg debate of sorts. Is the team losing because the stadium isn’t filling up, or is the stadium not filling up because the team’s not winning? One could make the argument for the former, but the latter really seems like the more likely option. The fans don’t owe UConn football anything. The team has won four games in its last 40 tries. Can you blame people for not attending? To expect people to come, UConn has to put out a winning (or at least competitive) product. Nobody is going to show up to watch the team lose 48-14 to Syracuse, a school that the fanbase wants to consider themselves superior to.
Back in 2010, UConn made it to the Fiesta Bowl after winning the Big East with an 8-4 record. The average attendance for their six home games was over 38,000 fans out of the possible 40,000 that fit in Rentschler. Last year, the team went 1-11 and managed just 10,126 people per game, as per tickets-scanned data from CTInsider. If the team puts on a worthwhile show, then fans will show up. At its peak, UConn football demonstrated itself to be Connecticut’s professional football team. There’s no reason to believe that if UConn puts together winning seasons, fans won’t show up just because the stadium is in East Hartford (I use 2010 because it was UConn’s last winning season).
Also, the people who are failing to show up for these games actually haven’t been the students, who are at the biggest disadvantage here in the sense of ease of travel. Both games so far, the student section has started out packed — although it emptied out as the Syracuse game got away — watching the team you’re rooting for get pummeled is not fun. What’s going to happen is fans are going to point to the empty student section later in the year and say things like “the students don’t have the same heart and dedication like they used to.” Maybe not, but students when you went to UConn also didn’t have to root for a team that has been a statistically bottom-five team for the better portion of the past ten years. If the team is solid, the students will make their way to Rentschler six times a year.
For my basketball argument last semester that home weekday games should be played on campus, the key word was ‘weekday.’ On weekends, the game isn’t competing with classes. I have no issue with forcing students to travel because they’ve done it before and will do it if the product is above par. If anything, it becomes an experience. You go to the stadium early, tailgate, watch the team and then go home. Students like that if the team is playing well. As a writer, I enjoy making the trip to the Rent. It makes it feel more professional and big-time. The basketball team doesn’t fill up the XL Center for weekday games against mediocre opponents. Saturday games at the Rent have potential to fill for any opponent. Even Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was in awe of the crowd when his Baylor Bears played visited the Huskies in 2008.
“When we played at UConn my freshman year, that was the loudest place I’ve ever been as a football player,” Griffin noted. “The stands are right next to the field, it was packed, and everyone was yelling. That was probably the coolest place for me to play at aside from Texas, Texas A&M and Nebraska.”
The people who really need to be stepping up are the Connecticut residents, who are the reason Rentschler Field is in the middle of the state. They need to take advantage of the stadium being an easy trip away. In general, most of the stadium is going to be non-students. That’s yet another reason to keep it centrally located. For something that only happens six times a year, keeping the majority in mind is critical.
This is exactly why the renovations recommended are worth biting the bullet for. With the $63.5 million in renovations being similar to what it would cost to start fresh in Storrs, that does bring the question of “why not just do that?” The answer is because the upward potential of the Rent is just higher — when the team is performing, there will be more people in the stands. With the issue not being the stadium, but the team, there’s just no need to reinvent the wheel.
I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be convenient to have the stadium on campus. I’d love to walk from my dorm to the field on a Saturday morning and not have to rely on people to give me a ride (Shoutout to Erin, our photo editor). But right now, the thing that will fill the stadium is not downsizing and bringing it into the least populated corner of the state — it’s winning games. The fans have demonstrated that they will fill the stands if the team makes it worth their Saturday. It’s time to stop blaming this issue on people who don’t have reason to support the cause. Fans’ love for UConn football shouldn’t be unconditional. Thus, it’s up to Coach Jim Mora & Co. to earn that love back.