Big 12 Fandom: Welcome To The Jungle
By Steve Pipps
Fans can make or break any sporting event.
You might find some great crowds tailgating and join them for a brat and a beer. The fans next to you might be decked out in body paint and costumes. At every late-season game where excitement and a few snowflakes are in the air, you can almost guarantee there will be a shirtless fanatic somewhere in the crowd.
I want seats next to that person. I want to get so roped into the frenzy of fandom that I forget anything exists outside of the stadium.
If you disagree, it’s probably because you’ve been without that kind of craziness for too long. I’m looking at you Kansas fans.
I only draw from what Big 12 players are saying. During the 2014 Big 12 media days, players were polled about a number of questions. In a bad turn for Kansas, players were asked, “Which Big 12 school has the worst fans?” Well, you already know the answer to that one.
One player anonymously said, “(Kansas) fans don’t show up. … The stands were like half full.”
Can you blame them? Who wants to willingly attend a game when your team is probably not going to win? At least Kansas can commiserate with MAC fans.
Enough Kansas-bashing because 2014 is a new season and the Jayhawks have some things going for them.
Another question from Big 12 media days was, where is the toughest place to play in the conference because of the home crowd? Texas Tech received the most votes. Jahjuan Seales of Oklahoma State said that Tech fans “threw tortillas at us, booed us.” Seales added that “They were rude.”
I understand where Seales is coming from, but the thought of Oklahoma State players being hit by flying tortillas somehow seems like the least-menacing thing that fans can do to intimidate another team.
I understand the premise, though. Tech fans just seem like they would be terrifying. The red-and-black with the name Red Raiders, it just connotes anger and anarchy. Beyond the tortillas, Tech fans have been voted the worst for years. In 2011, Jake Trotter of NewsOK, polled 29 of 38 players at that year’s Big 12 media days and found that Texas Tech earned 32 percent of the vote for having the worst fans. One player said "After we lost to them, they ran on the field and tried to beat us up. They're the worst."
When you tie that in to Seales’ comments, the tortillas seem much scarier. By the way, Kansas was second with 16 percent of the vote that year, and little has changed in Lawrence, Kan.
To visitors, a rowdy crowd can be frightening, imposing or distracting, but the home team couldn’t ask for anything more. At the end of last season, ESPN ranked the top student sections in the Big 12, based on a number of factors including, “attendance, interest, noise and, well, who seems to have the most fun.”
No. 5 on that list was a surprise in Iowa State. For having a team that hasn’t won more than five games since 2009, Iowa State fans still come in droves. They have set single-season attendance records in each of the past three seasons. Even during games that mean nothing, Cyclones fans come out and support their team.
Kansas State and Oklahoma State filled in the fourth and third spots, respectively. At KSU, fans going crazy for “The Wabash Cannonball” has to be a sight for any visiting team. At OSU past players remember the “Paddle People” with anything but fondness. The Big 12 had to pass a rule that fans couldn’t bang their paddles during certain points of games because the noise was so loud and disconcerting.
Baylor ranked second in the ESPN piece, which said that close to 75 percent of the student body was at the Bears' final home game that season against Texas. That is impressive for a school with only about 13,000 students.
Sitting atop the list of best student sections was Texas Tech. No surprise there. Being some of the worst fans in the league almost goes hand in hand with having the best student section. It’s not menacing when three students throw some tortillas or boo, but when your talking 14,915 fans — the record student attendance that the Red Raiders drew for their first home game of 2013 — it can be extremely intimidating.
Tech fans have been showing up to games in such large numbers that the school had to open another section to accommodate them. That is the type of passion I want to be surrounded by while watching football. That is the type of passion college football needs. Students across the FBS should take a note out of Texas Tech’s handbook.
Get ready Central Arkansas, Aug. 30 is coming in hot.