Fans need to see some of the best sports on campus

It was a blissful day Thursday, and a figure from the past scaled his way through mounds of dirt and concrete at the site of the new Gophers softball stadium.
Co-softball coach Julie Standering immediately recognized the lowly wanderer and, after a few minutes of small talk about the upcoming season, a comment was made about the new stadium’s potential impact on the program.
“It’s going to be huge,” Standering said. “And the last few years haven’t hurt either.”
Standering was referring to the success of the softball team the past three years: two consecutive NCAA appearances and three in the past four years.
The stadium is expected to hold about 1,000 fans. I covered the team last year, and many times they had a reasonably full stadium — usually drawing 400 or so people. Ninety percent of those people were over the age of 25.
Translation: there weren’t many students there.
Williams Arena will once again be filled with obnoxious and clueless fans in the student section, despite a team that will be lucky to get into the NIT. No matter. The Barn will nearly sell out its games for those wanting to see and hear the echoes you only get from the dissonant ring on the back of the rim.
You’ll flock to see crappy men’s basketball, hockey and mediocre football, but a women’s hockey team among the top-five teams in the country since its existence will occasionally attract a pep band and some mice leftover from the men’s game.
Most of this campus probably doesn’t want to hear this, but my theory is that most of the better sports at the University are the ones most of this student population doesn’t see.
I plead guilty. I have a nicotine-esque addiction of holding teams to a higher standard than most around here: clean programs first, winning second. I’d rather watch a women’s hockey team or gymnastics team that runs solid and winning programs than Jim Wacker’s football teams.
Substance over style. It’s a Greg Maddux three-hitter over a Sammy Sosa home run any and every day.
So what is it about this campus’ population that shivers at the thought of going to an intercollegiate sporting event other than men’s football, hockey or basketball?
Maybe 1,200 people filled Mariucci for the women’s opener last season. 35,000 — albeit far below a good college football crowd — went to the Dome for the football home opener.
The women’s swimming and diving team won their first-ever Big Ten championship. The men’s squad finished second in the conference.
“Who cares?” you ask. “I want to see how many points Quincy Lewis has to score for the team to win enough to be extra mediocre.”
And just to prove I’m not discriminating against men (even though they have the three highest profile sports), the wrestling team never dropped below third nationally. The only time J. Robinson’s squad drew over 5,000 was against No. 1 Oklahoma State.
The baseball team was often ranked in the top 25 last spring, and rarely did they ever draw more than a grand.
Gymnastics was nationally ranked throughout last winter, not that anyone was there to see it.
The aforementioned examples aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing sports compared to football and basketball (not that those are always putting sparkles in eye), but at some point teams that consistently win should be acknowledged.
Most of these sports are getting new facilities, which will be a big shot to their programs. The problem is that because they don’t get the giant fan and media attention, they don’t get the bigger revenues. So the capacities are only about 1,000 people.
Standering and Co. would love to see 1,000 people at their new stadium in the spring. But who are we kidding?
Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]