Sitting in the half-empty Lorenz Field grandstands during an Oregon State men’s soccer game last September, Roberto Nelson mulled over something that had been on his mind for quite some time.
Beaver Nation’s potential.
Not the soccer team he was watching. Not the basketball team he plays for.
The fan base’s potential.
“We could have the best fans in the country,” the fifth-year senior said.
The OSU student body is a “family,” Nelson reasoned, and family members support one another — which is why he attends as many OSU sporting events as his schedule allows.
He envisioned a world in which classmates adopted his line of thinking; how awesome it’d be if he wasn’t able to waltz into the soccer or softball stadium a few minutes late and be able to pick between a few hundred open seats.
A vision that never became a reality.
At least, not for men’s basketball.
If the Pac-12’s leading scorer isn’t above hooting and hollering at a midweek women’s basketball game, as he was Monday, what’s your excuse for not doing so at men’s games?
The Beavers rank second-to-last in the Pac-12 in average home attendance (3,623).
The student section has been decent in size but pathetic in terms of noise and originality.
My words, not Nelson’s.
He still prefers to speak of the crowd in regards to its “potential.”
“A couple years back, we were having like 8,000 fans for the UCLA game and stuff like that,” Nelson said. “It was fun to have all that support behind you, especially in the student section and behind the baskets. I think we have a lot of potential here to really pack Gill (Coliseum) a lot more than what it’s been.”
Being the noble guy he is, Nelson took the blame for the fans’ lack of support, saying the Beavers “need to win some more games to get it packed.”
But I’ll say what he didn’t.
OSU (9-7, 1-3 Pac-12) is four games into its conference season. Had it defeated Cal on Saturday — a game 5,125 people attended — it’d be .500 in a conference that will probably send four or five teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Don’t believe in supporting a program that consistently underachieves? Understandable.
But at least wait until OSU has assured itself of a sub-.500 record before you use that as a reason to stop attending games.
“We love it when there’s a huge crowd,” said senior center Angus Brandt. “‘Fill Gill,’ try and get that going. I think (former OSU football player) James Dockery put something out on Twitter the other day about how when the crowd is loud we have a great winning percentage or something.”
Actually, Dockery’s tweet read: “@barosports Write a story how we have no culture in Gill anymore. Students please fill up the student section. There’s a correlation between crowd noise at home and wins.”
Dockery is right.
The culture has disappeared in the four years I’ve been here. Fewer students jump up and down when the Beavers are on defense. Students behind the basket and in the upper sections sit rather than stand. The chants are disjointed and few and far between.
One of the Beaver Dam’s oldest traditions — yelling, “Sucks!” after each opposing starter is introduced — is only carried out by about a quarter of students in attendance.
It’s sad, really.
“(Fans) have to know they’re important,” Nelson said. “I feel like there’s a disconnect between the basketball team and the fans. They just need to be more engaged.”
To help bridge that disconnect, I asked players what they’d like to see from their fans.
After all, the Ducks come to Gill for the Civil War on Sunday.
Wouldn’t that be a perfect time for Beaver Nation to realize its potential?
1. Dig up some dirt on opposing players
A few years ago, OSU’s Eric Moreland posted a picture on social media of Nelson sleeping in his underwear.
Somebody at the University of Washington distributed copies of said picture throughout the student section when the Beavers played in Seattle.
The Beaver Dam needs more of that kind of stuff, Nelson said.
“You can take some of the stuff they say, some of the pictures they put (on the Internet), you can blow them up, have everybody in the student section having it,” he said. “Like if you were on the court and somebody did some stuff like that to you, how would you feel?”
Of course, he added, don’t take it overboard — nothing racial, nothing that could hurt somebody — but do something.
“Have sheets that you can pass out to people so they can know a little dirt on the other team,” added sophomore guard Langston Morris-Walker. “Some soul-burners they can throw out just like (other crowds) throw out soul-burners on us.”
Nelson recalled a time when he saw a USC player give a student “the finger” during a game a few years ago.
“For him to get in his head, that’s what we need,” he said, smiling.
2. Students behind the basket: distract opponents during free throws
Prior to the Cal game, the @OSU_BeaverDam Twitter account tweeted: “BEAVER NATION! Tomorrow, for Gary Payton night… The first 50 students who sit in section E under the hoop will receive a FREE Dutch Bros! The students must be loud and crazy! ESPECIALLY DURING FREE THROWS!”
The students in that section were not loud and crazy. At least in my opinion.
While the students in the Beaver Dam — sections “J” through “F” — have done a good job of standing during games this season, last year’s Civil War (17 home games ago) was the last time I remember students standing behind the basket.
Nelson commented on how a lot of Pac-12 student sections are located behind the baskets, which can be advantageous to the home team when opponents are shooting free throws.
3. Just be loud
“Just have fun, that’s my biggest thing,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of people are holding back and not having fun. They’re part of the game, too. They can have an effect if they just go out there and scream loud.”
“Try to be the best sixth man we know we can be,” Morris-Walker added.
Said Brandt, “I’m looking forward to a big crowd (Sunday). We love our fans.”
Grady Garrett, sports reporter
On Twitter @gradygarrett