SMU is inching closer to admission into one of college football's hallowed BCS conferences, which will mark the latest milestone on what the school and its alumni hope is the road back to football relevancy. It's certainly been a long road, starting with the death penalty in '87 and winding precariously through 2008, when the Mustangs finished 1-11.
Things have been better in recent years, but still: It's a dismal history, one that has understandably eroded student support for the team. Even the most ardent SMU supporters, you would think, understand that to pack out the student section, it might take an extended period of something better than mediocrity -- better recruits, better opponents, a better product. In short, something to compete with students' other entertainment options, which in Dallas, unlike in Lubbock or Stillwater or Eugene, are many. (Getting shit-faced and watching the Texas game at Katy Trail Ice House comes to mind.)
But at least one alum has had it with the student apathy, and he has what he thinks is a pretty drastic (but quite necessary) solution. And this isn't any alum. This is the Alumni Guy.
His real name is Rick Larson. He's a stockbroker by day, but he cares enough about SMU to pen a column for the campus newspaper. And it's hard to blame him for his passion. Rick, after all, was there for the Glory Days. The Mustangs won a share of the national title in 1981. That was Rick's senior year.
He still goes to the games, partying beforehand and marching in with his alumni friends. The October 15 game, against Central Florida, was the straw that broke Rick's Eric Dickerson-jerseyed back.
Sitting in the stadium that beautiful afternoon, I overheard several alums wondering, "Where are the students?" I answered that the way it works now, only a few students need attend the games, that they text back to the missing -- or take pictures -- on what's going on.
Most alumni would probably shrug and hope for better attendance in future years, especially if the Mustangs can contend against a team like Boise State, which is also expecting an invite to the Big East. But not Rick. Rick's a doer, not a shrugger. Rick has a plan. And some questions about the students' academic performance. But mostly: A plan!
I suggest the administration start by cancelling the tailgate parties for the students and keep them for the old folks down the block. We can not only have a few beers, we can still actually walk a straight line into the stadium. We pay attention and get loud, too. When the administration sees a lot more student bodies at the games, then they can have their tailgate parties back. ...
... I noticed at the TCU game -- where SMU students didn't show up, either -- that the Frog undergrads made the trek into the stadium in droves. Their SMU counterparts should be ashamed. Here, the alums have delivered a new stadium and a successful coach to the school. The team responds by beating TCU and giving their fellow students a winning record, potentially a bowl game, and their fellow students thank them with their silence. ... I wonder if their professors are noticing their blasé attitudes in the classroom, as well?
I emailed Rick about his idea, telling him I thought it was a little wacky. After all, Boulevard-ing has become a popular pastime since its inception in 2000 -- very SMU, what with all the big-screens and barbecues. Still, he defended himself. There were only 500 students at the game anyway, he said. There's no way canceling the tailgate could hurt attendance, so why the hell not?
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It's a good point, except that Rick's goal now seems to be keeping attendance exactly like it is. Also, canceling the student tailgate definitely would hurt attendance, since at least half of those 500 students surely got trashed at the tailgate and walked into the stadium on accident, thinking it was an architecturally elaborate sorority house. Cut out the tailgate and you're down to 250 tops.
But Rick wasn't having it. Besides, he said, aren't wacky ideas exactly what this country needs?
Perhaps it takes "wacky" ideas in order to get results, especially in a situation that has grown so status quo and apathetic. Come to think of it, our country could use some "wacky" ideas in getting out of this political and financial mess that we are in.
Maybe. But like I told Rick: If it's wacky that we need more of, we're well on our way to a turnaround.