This week the Browns played the Bengals in front of 6000 people in a Cleveland Browns Stadium that usually doesn’t get that empty until the fourth quarter of a game in December. It was very much a normal Browns-Bengals game. The Bengals are very bad but Cleveland’s bad and injured defense kept them in it. When Baker finally kneed it out, I’ll admit to having completely forgotten that there weren’t very many people at the game.
Come Saturday I watched the end of the Tour de France. As that event is taking place in a European country with competent governance, there are fans back out on the roadside. As Tadej Pogacar surged into the lead with one of the great comebacks of all time, I had largely forgotten about the crowd.
That of course brings us around to Xavier’s basketball season. The obvious loss of the student section will be noticeable at least at the start of games. There will be less cheering when a play goes well, less screaming when a call goes poorly. Ultimately, though, will the lack of fans in the Cintas, or any other venue, matter that much to you? The beauty of college ball is its ability to capture the mind regardless of the atmosphere. To that end I don’t much remember what the fans were doing as Malcolm Bernard sprinted to the Elite Eight. I was busy jumping up and down myself and then getting blindsided with a hug/tackle from the other fan still up in my home. When Tu banked it over Jack Cooley I couldn’t begin to tell you what the crowd did. For the high majors, the crowd is there, but it isn’t generally integral. Great basketball is great basketball.
That changes at the lower levels. One of the great parts of March is watching the low-major one bid leagues play it out for a chance to dance. The teams are comprised mostly of guys who will grind 40-60 hour work weeks the rest of their lives like the rest of us. This is their one chance to make a mark on basketball. Perhaps more than someone at Kansas, Duke, Villanova, or Xavier, the NCAA tournament is their dream. Watching LIU battle Mount St. Mary’s to get in is great largely because of the absolute mayhem that is the crowd. Seized by the import of the moment, the fans generally go bonkers. There, losing fans will hurt.
Still, for the most part, the NFL, MLB, and NBA have taught us that a sporting event without a crowd in place is still very much worth tuning in to watch. Indeed if the NBA and NFL ratings are to be believed, it’s more worth tuning in to watch. The show will go on this November-April, will the empty banks of seats really matter?