Put the ‘hey’ back in the Barn

You all have a Barnyard animal crawling in your soul – you just don’t know it yet.

The sixth man is one of the most important and influential members of a basketball team. They work hard on both ends of the floor and step up when the game is on the line, but are the only ones with the ability to defend an opponent’s free throw.

From the cheap seats in the rafters to the student section and the public seats all around, the home crowd creates the ever-powerful, intimidating, highly sought-after menace that is home court advantage.

Teams’ reputations and the arenas they play in are built on the charisma and commitment of the fans. The Cameron Crazies have become synonymous with Duke University basketball and have given the Blue Devils an unrivaled level of home court advantage. This year, the surging Fighting Illini of Illinois hold the No. 1 ranking in the nation with the support of the Orange Crush student section.

Moving West, The Pit at the University of New Mexico might be the loudest arena in the nation. Built inside of a hole atop a mesa in Albuquerque, the Lobos have won more than 80 percent of their games played there.

You can’t see it, but Williams Arena is hurting. The Barn was born to intimidate its opponents. The floor is elevated, and the upper deck casts a demonlike shadow over the lower level. When The Barn starts to roar, it takes more than a sundown to silence it.

The Gophers came into the season with an overall home record of 662-246, a winning percentage of more than 70 percent. This season, the Gophers have a record of 11-2 at The Barn for a winning percentage of more than 80 percent. While the team’s performance hasn’t been hurt with the declining dedication of the fans, the mystique and reputation of Williams Arena is in a downward spiral.

This season’s nonconference schedule saw only a dusting of maroon and gold in the stands, and the Big Ten season has picked up since the Michigan State game, which followed poor turnouts for Penn State and Gene Keady’s final game at The Barn with his Purdue Boilermakers.

But the fact is, the athletics department shouldn’t be forced to give away T-shirts and hot dogs to get students to come to a basketball game. We should be camping on Northrop Mall for the chance to buy season tickets. Where is the enthusiasm?

Anyone can turn on the TV and see every play. But if you weren’t there, you didn’t get to grab a piece of the 5-pound nut roll that was passed around. And you didn’t get to see this columnist brick the chance to win free Subway sandwiches for his row.

The best part of seeing a live game is being part of the action. Walking into the arena, talking over the game plan for victory, and walking out of the arena with your head held as high as the players who walked off the court. There’s a feeling deep inside that you had an impact on the game, that they couldn’t have done it without you.

You all have a Barnyard Animal crawling in your soul Ö you just don’t know it yet. Come join the team.

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]