If UCLA plays in Pauley Pavilion and no one’s there to see it, does the arena make a sound?
This brain teaser is a little easier to solve than the one about the tree falling in the forest. In this case, the answer: hardly. With about half of the seats in Pauley Pavilion empty on average, you can almost hear echoing through the arena. This once-hallowed ground begins to appear hollow.
College basketball pundit Dick Vitale put UCLA’s not-so-well-kept secret on blast during a nationally televised audience as the Bruins took on the Duke Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden: The program with the most national titles in college basketball history was having trouble filling seats, particularly from students.
And what is college basketball without its students? What separates college basketball from the NBA is its student-derived atmosphere. The best, craziest fans in Cameron Indoor, Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena are students.
There have been games this season in which the floor seats in the student section at Pauley Pavilion haven’t been filled. Students pay $99 for a Den Pass, which provides access to all football and basketball home games. There are 20 home games at Pauley Pavilion, which comes out to just under $5 per game for seats that could be worth upwards of $300. And they’re empty.
While students view tailgating and football games as full-day obligations, basketball games receive such little hype on campus that it seems like students are just passing through Pauley on their way home from class.
While Vitale is right that students need to fill the Den, they may not be entirely at fault. Throughout recent years, it seems as if attending basketball games has become progressively less fun for students.
The out-of-conference portion of the schedule and beginning of the season occurred at the end of fall quarter as UCLA students were preparing for and taking finals. Students of this caliber aren’t willing to sacrifice a few hours from Powell to cheer on their Bruins as they take on a team as unwatchable as the Chattanooga Mocs. Also, instead of tailgating, the idea of a pregame gathering is having students line up two hours in advance outside Pauley.
The in-game experience isn’t very entertaining either. The new Pauley Pavilion initially placed students behind the basket but decided against it after fan unrest, and order was restored with the Den back to being courtside. However, instead of the traditional bleachers that students could pack into and stomp on, padded seat-back chairs remained, encouraging orderly sitting – something impossible in overflowing bleachers, and not typically associated with student sections.
The Den is also now split up into three sections with students courtside, behind the basket and in the upper levels, making it almost impossible to cheer in unity. Chants are weak and disjointed, with the Yell Crew often stifling any creativity. Signs and posters are often confiscated and the process of getting them approved can be a hassle.
The result is a seemingly uninterested and docile student section on television – on the occasion that the Den actually makes it on screen. The cameras in Pauley are always set on the benches with the student section often out of view. Behind the benches are alumni or fans that can afford seats of that quality and are often at an age where maniacally screaming and yelling is no longer a part of their agenda, or, as of late, empty seats. And there’s no denying that students like having the camera on them. I don’t think the dudes in Teletubby costumes do it for their own enjoyment.
Winning cures many ills, but getting students to games may be a brain teaser that could take a little more effort to solve.