The following is the third and final part in a series about the state of the Oakland University basketball program. So often such addresses are delivered by the heads of state (or in this case, the program), but for today this is from the perspective of an outsider, a dedicated fan.
Being a sports fan is inherently about community. We express our fanaticism for our favorite teams by wearing clothes, attending games, joining forums, reading analysis and recaps, and - in some cases - writing about the experience ourselves. All of these things connect us to other supporters of the team. The shared interest flows from one fan to the other, it spurs conversation, and ultimately makes us happier individuals.
Fortunately, at Oakland University all of these facets have been coming together nicely over the past few seasons. University apparel has been made available at nearby supermarkets, and local businesses have slowly embraced the university's swag. Students, while never lacking the opportunity to obtain a free shirt at OU, still have a tendency to wear gear from other universities, but progress has been made at games and especially while in the student section. Black-outs have become the norm for students at big games, evidenced at last season's homecoming game against Oral Roberts.
Attendance figures as a whole have been great the past few seasons. The average attendance was steady in the mid-2000s before surging in the 2008-2009 season due to two games at the Palace of Auburn Hills that were counted as home games despite a larger crowd advantage for the visiting teams (Michigan and Michigan State). Still, the increase that season was good enough for second largest increase in the nation, and the opportunity to play home games at the Palace should not be discounted. This past season saw the largest growth sans a Palace game. Average attendance was 2,733, no doubt boosted by increasing student participation as well as community interest in a team that eventually won a conference championship and NCAA tournament bid. The sense of community emanating from the O'Rena is surely something to behold and a strong indicator of the program's current success.
This community sense has also been enhanced by technology. While he's yet to join the Twitter revolution like conference colleague Scott Nagy, Coach Greg Kampe gave fans insight into the team's preparation before every game on OUGrizzlies.com via video updates. For a team that does not receive regular attention on national or regional media outlets, such updates have been key in giving fans the inside scoop so many other schools have the privilege of receiving. Furthermore, the Oakland Press has been instrumental in giving access to fans through the efforts of beat reporter Paul Kampe and Doug Pemberton before him. They have found success in adapting with the times by offering a weekly video interview series known as Grizz Talk on their website. Credit should also be given to the student newspaper which has gracefully fulfilled its role of updating students on news and events regarding the program. Finally, fans have also been involved through a forum that features many dedicated supporters who discuss, analyze, and link to anything going on with the program. All great programs have such outlets for fan expression, and the Grizzlies community has come together to offer one of the best in the conference.
The commitment from administrators, students, alumni, and community members to Golden Grizzlies basketball has been growing over the years. Many will say that 2010's NCAA Tournament appearance was validation that the commitment and emotional investment was worth it. After all, OU was featured on the front pages of the Detroit News and Free Press and on FOX 2, WDIV 4, and Channel 7 throughout the days leading up to the game against Pittsburgh. There were also stories and breakdowns on any number of the national college basketball websites and blogs in cyberspace. And there was a buzz amongst fans on-campus, especially as 100 students boarded buses to attend the NCAA game in Milwaukee where the students, combined with family members, alumni, and other fans, made for a formidable OU support section. It was clearly a good time to be a Grizzly this past March, and the positive effects of that experience should continue to be seen in the future.
It is my hope that after reading these last few posts about The State of the Golden Grizzlies basketball that a light was given to some aspects of the program that are sometimes overlooked. I'd never want to bypass the impact that Coach Greg Kampe and the coaching staff, athletics staff, senior administrators, and donors make on the program. But the recent success the program has had in broadcasting, graduation rates, and community-building are paramount to this process as well. As a recent graduate, it is my hope that the OU program will continue on this exciting path which has brought the university more exposure in the local area, the state, and the nation. Most of all, it is hoped that the special community that has grown out of this basketball program can continue to be a rewarding and positive one which fosters more traditions, more friendships, and more everlasting memories.