A yellow line placed on the floor at Jesse Philips Arena made a game-changing difference for the men’s basketball team in its loss to Ashland University on Saturday. This line smothered the spirited Charger fan base, making a crucial difference in the second half and costing Hillsdale the win.
Fanhood is a mysterious, yet strong and community-building bond in sports. Saturdays in the fall mean 110,000 people cramming their way into the University of Michigan’s “The Big House” to scrunch themselves amongst each other uncomfortably while watching their team play a football game. That’s right, for students, alumni, “Michigan Men,” and Walmart fans alike, it is their team. It’s no surprise to the screaming fans when their team walks off the field victorious, the home-field advantage prevailing yet again.
The same holds true in basketball as it does in football. Home court advantage plays a major role in team performance. In fact, some will argue that the fans have a larger effect on the game in basketball than they do in football due to a smaller stadium and closer proximity to the playing surface.
Earlier this season, a blog run by ESPN analysts ranked “The Top 10 Toughest Stadiums” in which to play college basketball; basically, the top 10 best student sections. As the home stretch of this year’s NCAA basketball season approaches, the teams who call these stadiums home have amassed a combined home record of 128 wins and 17 losses (88.3 percent). Famous student sections such as “The Cameron Crazies” (Duke University) and “The Izzone” (Michigan State University) take pride in their impact on the game.
The fans love their team and the team loves the fans, so as long as nobody is physically hurt by fan involvement, why suppress the pride and spirit of a loud, involved student section? This past Saturday’s basketball game against the Eagles found the student section being just that: suppressed.
After Hillsdale came out in the first half shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range and holding the Eagles to a measly 21 points, it looked as if we would see another W for our boys at the end of the afternoon. The student section that day was the loudest it had been all year, as more Charger pride arose from those bleachers than had been seen at a home game in quite some time. In fact, as an Ashland University radio announcer put it, “[The Hillsdale student section has] been warned three times to stay back. Kinda like Cameron Indoor,” which is a reference to the stadium of the Duke Blue Devils, who have posted a home record of 15 – 0 this season. Yet, after a spectacular defensive half in which the Chargers had forced seven turnovers and held the Eagles to just 24 percent shooting from the floor, one thing changed the atmosphere of the entire game: a thin, yellow line.
As college employees unrolled a yellow line that was placed on the floor, fans were forced to move nearly three feet farther away from the court than where they had previously been standing. As the half began, nobody could feel the effect of the Hillsdale crowd dwindling more than the Ashland players, who shot 70.6 percent from the floor and 100 percent from three-point range in the second half. Yes, that’s correct, a perfect five for five.
As the final buzzer sounded, Hillsdale College fans saw their boys fall 64 – 56 to an Ashland team who “boasted” a poor record of 10 wins and 12 losses; a loss that left most in the arena scratching their heads.
So what happened? Did our men just not have enough juice left in the tank at the end of the game? Do we not have enough talent on our basketball team? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO. In fact, the Hillsdale Chargers (16 – 7) have a home record of 11 – 3 this season (one of these losses came over Christmas break) and are among the top four schools in the conference in categories including field goal percentage (47.8), three-point percentage (40.3), and points allowed per game (62.1). There is no doubt that our basketball team is very talented and has an extremely knowledgeable coaching staff, so again I ask, what happened? A thin, yellow line.
In a school of 1,300 students, most of whom would rather read philosophy books on a Saturday afternoon than support their basketball team, why hold back the group of students who bleed blue and white and wanted nothing more than to see a Charger victory this past weekend? Why stifle our home court advantage and squash our school spirit? Now, some may argue that the team is, in fact, responsible for the loss; none more than the humble players themselves, I’m sure, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is not the case. So who, or what, is responsible for the loss suffered this past Saturday? A thin, yellow line.