Without winning tradition, Kent State fan base tends to suffer

Chris Gates

The lack of a football tradition at Kent State has led to weak student turnout at games, and recent success would lead one to believe this would change.

Future plans by the athletic department to attract students to the games will also play a role as the Flashes square off against Delaware State tomorrow at 4 p.m.

“The athletic department has worked hard to make football games special for the students,” Associate Athletic Director Pete Mahoney said. “We hope to see a packed student section on Saturday.”

This year, the Kent State football team opened the season with a 23-14 win over Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State, a member of the Big 12, is the first BCS opponent Kent State has beaten since 1987. It was a monumental win for a team that has struggled to even become bowl eligible for decades.

With newfound success on the gridiron and a conceivable Mid-American Conference Championship run ahead, student support should be a non-issue.

Students, however, take more into consideration than just the team’s success when deciding whether to go to games.

“It depends on who the opponent is,” said Zach Baker, accounting and finance major. “It depends on weather too. If it’s a sunny day then I’ll definitely go.”

Many students say if Kent State had a football tradition like Ohio State or Penn State, their attitudes would change about attending games.

“I don’t attend often,” said Brad Bugara, psychology and nursing major. “But if Ohio State was in Kent, I’d be there.”

Many said if the team was better they would attend. With the football program on the rise, the time is now for Kent State students to show their support.

“The athletic department has worked hard to make it special,” Mahoney said. “We work hard to keep the integrity of the student section for the students.

“All home events are free to the students,” Mahoney added. “That’s something you can’t get anywhere else. Students get the best seat in the house. Not to mention we had the second biggest turnaround in college football last year.”

Publications such as USA Today wrote of Kent State’s Cinderella run last season — from nearly moving to the division formerly known as 1-AA to becoming a force in the MAC in 2007. Still, only a handful of students stayed to rush the field and celebrate with players as the Flashes beat rival Akron last season and brought the Wagon Wheel back to Kent.

Last year, attendance set new records going over 85,000 for the entire season. The low point, however, occurred on senior night against Eastern Michigan when only 8,147 people showed up. On that night, Kent State became bowl eligible for this first time since 2001.

“I was at the Eastern Michigan game and was really disappointed,” said Brett Hodros, junior secondary education major. “I think that if you go to a college, you have an obligation as a student to support your sports teams.”

Kent State does have its handful of diehard fans, though. Many show up each weekend, braving the conditions, to cheer on the Flashes.

Tomorrow is the first of five chances Kent State students will have to see the Flashes at home for the year when they play Delaware State.

“We want to see the excitement we saw last year against Akron and Toledo,” Mahoney said. “We’ve got one hell of a football team, there’s no excuse.”

Pre-game festivities start at 1:30 p.m. in Tailgate Alley. Free food, beer, live bands and a cornhole tournament are just a few items offered to students.

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].