A Crisis of University Pride and How to Save It

31 Oct, 2013

On any given Saturday between September and December, over 100,000 people can be observed lining up outside 1201 South Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rain or shine, there they are, waiting impatiently to get in. No, they are not outside their neighborhood Apple store waiting to buy a new iPhone 5S. Rather, they are outside Michigan Stadium, affectionately known as “The Big House,” wearing yellow and blue from head to toe, ready to cheer on the University of Michigan Wolverines football team.

That’s more than 100,000 tickets sold, as well as innumerable Michigan hats, shirts, and so on every home game since 1975. Meanwhile, 1,369 miles south in Austin, Texas, the University of Texas brings in over $120M yearly through its athletic programs. While these numbers are staggering, the impact that college sports have on universities and campuses extend far beyond these direct inflows of funds.

Though every country has its own set of challenges and downsides, the United States has had tremendous success at fostering school spirit and pride across the nation’s many campuses. From bumper stickers to grey workout shirts, college-educated Americans show a passion for their school that is uncharacteristic in other parts of the world, including Canada. Beyond incredibly lively crowds at athletic events, this sense of affiliation follows students and alumni for the rest of their lives.

While most students would likely argue that they chose their school mainly for its academics, there is no doubting that spirited campuses play an important role in attracting high school applicants. After all, if these thousands of people walk around campus decked out in school gear, and are willing to obliterate their vocal chords supporting classmates in a variety of events, the school must be an exciting place to spend four years in pursuit of a degree. Furthermore, the presence of thousands of alumni at these events also signals that these institutions foster strong networks that are likely to benefit graduates in their quest for career advancement. If anything, having a common alma mater is an effective icebreaker, especially when alumni are so feverishly proud.

By comparison, school spirit and the sense of affiliation is exasperatingly low in Canadian universities. Though most Canadian students are undoubtedly fond of their schools, they remain a far cry away from the near-obsession with universities in the United States. Considering the funding issues that many schools have been dealing with, especially in Quebec, our academic institutions would greatly benefit developing a stronger sense of belonging. Though colleges and universities have staff dedicated to reaching out to alumni during fundraising drives, perhaps the most efficient way to amass donations is by fostering school pride, with athletics serving as an effective means to do so.

With only a fraction of the United States’ population and far less lucrative television deals, Canadian universities face numerous obstacles preventing them from generating as much hype around athletics as their American counterparts. While even at McGill, groups such as Red Thunder and Fight Band work to assemble students and energize athletic events, the school would benefit from finding additional ways to promote its sporting competitions and build a following for their athletic teams.

In a city the size of Montreal, where entertaining activities abound, universities must double down on their efforts to attract students and alumni to athletic events. “There are so many things to do around the city that it is easy to overlook sporting events within the McGill community,” argues Bobby Fitzpatrick, a U2 International Development student. He adds, “it would be neat if multiple events on campus could be integrated with one another to increase attendance and excitement.”

Given the popularity of Lower Field gatherings, such as O.A.P., the McGill administration should organize tailgate events for athletic events, filled with live music, grills, and cheap beer. These types of pre-game festivities provide almost as much entertainment as the competitions themselves and go a long way in fostering school spirit. As well, highlights of the various games, which are already aired in the Fitness Center, should be played on televisions across the campus’ many buildings. It would serve as a pervasive reminder to students that there are many great athletic events going on around campus and help build a following for our teams.

More importantly, sports are an incredible outlet through which men and women can push themselves to the limit of their potential, develop friendships that will last a lifetime, as well as learn the virtues of teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership. It also enables universities to advance their students’ personal and professional growth through additional dimensions, beyond just academics.

Ultimately, increasing school spirit is essential to motivating current and former students to contribute to the school’s growth. Despite being consistently ranked amongst the world’s top-25 universities with a student body of over 30,000, McGill’s endowment fund only ranks 67th in North America. While this discrepancy is certainly the result of a several factors, there is no denying that the relatively low level of school spirit, compared to American counterparts, affects financial contributions. Not only have athletics long been, and will continue to be an extraordinary medium to foster school affiliation and pride, but they also have the potential to help amass vast amounts of donations. That’s more money to fund research projects, renovate classrooms, fund projects and perhaps even solve McGill’s budget crisis.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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