A "big NCAA fan" named Kyle called into Prime Time Sports today in the 4 p.m. hour. He was from suburban Bolton. Kyle asked Bob McCown why he thought CIS sport was less popular than the NCAA amongst Canadians.
As a point of discussion, Kyle told Bob that he had been to two university football games in Canada since his graduation in 1998. He had never been to any other CIS sporting event.
Bob told Kyle that he thought that there was two main problems. First, he wasn't sure whether Canadian schools actually cared about sport. They had to care before anyone else would. Secondly, he suggested that students needed to be more connected to the university while they are at school (which would lead to a greater sense of attachment as alumni) and that the universities are directly at fault for allowing that disconnect to happen.
Oh, did I mention that Kyle from Bolton, the big NCAA fan that had been to two football games since his graduation, played CIS football. For Laurier. (For what it's worth, the only Kyle I can find from that era is Kyle Kitchen. I'm a big WLU football geek, but, um, yeah. Mike?)
The funny thing here is that Kyle told McCown that he had been back to WLU for three homecoming games. So, a former player couldn't find the time to take in a football game at his alma matter when he was on the campus on at least one occasion.
Although McCown was, not unexpectedly, talking a bit out of his ass when it came to his knowledge of CIS sport (It's unclear he's aware that CIS schools can give scholarships now, nor does he seem aware that CIS football plays in front of CHL hockey sized crowds in many centres) his basic premise is bang on. If Kyle can't even be bothered to watch a team he played for how can we expect non-athletes to get back.
Without interested alumni there are no boosters and without boosters the sport does not grow. Without growth it's hard to get students to care. It's a vicious circle.
But there is one thing the schools can do--they can make the game day experience a lot more fun. Right now, most schools just open the gate and whoever shows up shows up. Institutions do little to support organizations such as, for instance, the Hawk Squad, which are made up of students that are interested in creating a lively fun atmosphere. Very little is done to encourage pre-game events (tailgating is actually discouraged unless it's in the form of vanilla, school sponsored events that attract, well, no one. The result is a dull environment that is of interest to no one but the true believers (and if there were enough true believers out there both Neate and I would likely be a hell of a lot better paid).
Sadly, this is a rant that I've put out there on more than one occasion. One well known CIS booster once told me that he gave this message to a room full of ADs and was basically ignored). And, truthfully, after 10+ years of beating the drum on this topic I'm getting a little fatigued (there is a reason I've professionally focused a lot more on soccer the past couple years — there is simply no opportunity for a CIS expert, nor do I ever see a situation when there will be).
I love this game. Truly. But, when Kyle can't even be bothered to care, and the schools ignore obvious advice, I sometimes wonder why I bother.