The College is not a traditional “sports school” — academics will always be its first priority — but its sports programs have been growing in various ways over the past few years, a trend highlighted by growing attendance stemming from continued success on the field from the Lions.
For a lot of people, attending sporting events at a Division III school like the College translates to watching friends compete, excluding the obvious exception of football events in which thousands of people turn up.
The numbers are showing that either more people than ever are acquiring an interest in College sports, or that the 10 percent of the student body — the school’s varsity athletes — are making more friends than in the past.
An average of 144 people showed up to games last year in non-football varsity sports that track attendance, while the average roster size for those teams was just 21, acccording to TCNJ Athletics. In other words, nearly seven people attended games for each athlete on the team, which is up from years past. Add football’s average attendance of 2,114 people, buoyed by big crowds for the home opener and Homecoming, which are major social events, and the average attendance from last year jumps to 256 people per sporting event, according to TCNJ Athletics.
There are further signs of increased popularity for campus sports early this year, too. The major fall sports other than football — men’s and women’s soccer and field hockey — are averaging 168 people, up a whopping 37 percent from last year’s average of 123 people for the same sports.
No one will mistake any College events for professional games, or even many Division III teams with fervent fan bases like Messiah College’s for soccer. Crowds at the College rarely crack the Top 50 in Division III. But improvement at any level is beneficial, considering that regardless of how many people enjoy the events, the school’s 20 varsity sports will be subsidized largely by the student body. Colleges are limited. Only several sports — football, basketball and soccer — have ticket prices, according to the College’s athletics website, none of which apply to students.
Increased attention on sports is not a coincidence, either, or even a way of showing that College students are expressing their school spirit through sports. The correlation between increased attendance at the College, as it is with most sports programs in the world, is pretty obvious: winning.
The most obvious example comes from the current fall season, in which all team sports have been gang busters on the field. Women’s soccer and field hockey have combined for more than a few impressive wins, including the former’s victory over No. 2 Johns Hopkins University last week, while men’s soccer went from luckless and offensively challenged last year to consistently challenging the country’s best teams on the field this season.
The same is true when the opposite happens and teams lose. Baseball had a rough record last year and went from attracting crowds of 123 people per game in 2012 to just 95 for a roster of 31. In other words, attendance is directly proportionate to a team’s win percentage at the College, which is true for eight of the nine teams in their last two seasons. The only exception is football, which has Homecoming in shouting distance, an event that exemplifies the spirit of College sports: smaller than it is at most schools, but with a winning team that captures the imaginations of students when they pay attention.