SMU is a basketball school — make no mistake about it. Never, at least not as long as we have been here at SMU, has any sport received the same amount of student support as the men’s basketball program.
The lack of enthusiasm from the student body on sports at SMU has been well documented. There seemed to be no answer for the sports apathy on the Hilltop until the opening of the new Moody Coliseum in 2014.
This change in fan culture didn’t happen over night, it began last year, when hall of fame coach Larry Brown decided to make his new home on the Hilltop. Browns impact was immediate and he managed to land SMU’s first McDonalds All-American in program history with Keith Frazier.
Shortly after Frazier’s arrival, more top recruits expressed interest in joining Brown’s squad. However, during the first year under Brown the Mustangs were handicapped by transfer eligibility regulations and were forced to play their best players for an uncommonly large number of minutes. The result was a lot of painful losses, in which the Mustangs lost huge leads to opponents late in the second half of games.
The Mustangs failed to meet the high expectations the SMU community placed upon it and the surge of support from the beginning of the season quickly died down.
Shortly after the end of the 2012-13 season, renovations on the old Moody Coliseum began and the buzz around Brown’s team returned.
Not only would SMU have another season with Brown at the helm, but his team would be playing in a brand new stadium. The renovations included: bigger corridors, new bathrooms, new food stands, improved floor seating, a club for pre game and post game parties, TVs in the hall so you don’t miss any of the action, luxury suites and alcohol.
The addition of alcohol received the most attention prior to the opening of the new facility — both good and bad. Those arguing for the sale of alcohol said that it would boost student attendance, and The Daily Campus agreed with them in an editorial board written last fall.
Based on what we have seen, those same people could say “I told you so,” and we could do the same. Fan attendance is a thousand times better than it has ever been and the fans at the games are rowdier than ever before. But to do so would be to falsely attribute this boost in attendance to the alcohol purely because one came after the other.
There is no doubt alcohol has played a small part in both the amount of fans and their rowdiness. However, it is not the driving force behind the increased support of the basketball program.
A combination of all the events leading up to this basketball season has created the perfect storm for the emergence of basketball as the most popular sport on campus.
If a program beats opponents, they aren’t supposed to and make waves in their respective leagues, their fan base will grow.
The true turning point in SMU’s transformation came when the Mustangs hosted then No. 15 University of Connecticut on January 4th for the grand opening of Moody Coliseum.
So, not only were people interested in seeing the new Moody, they also had the hopes of seeing a competitive game from their Mustangs against a nationally ranked opponent.
The noise level of the crowd inside Moody far surpassed anything seen at any SMU game before. And the Mustangs responded to the crowd support with a 74-65 upset.
Since the UCONN game, the Mustangs have played in front of a full and loud Moody every time. However, the bigger and louder crowd is a little misleading. There are fewer seats available in Moody as a compromise for the expanded walk space and the addition of suites. This means it is much easier to fill up Moody with more screaming fans. And if those fans happen to have a few adult beverages, chances are they will be slightly louder than other fans.
If SMU lost to UCONN in blowout fashion, fan support might have fizzled out once again and the Mustangs might have fell into a losing streak.
Instead, the men are competing with the best teams in the nation and dominating the weaker ones.
SMU provided Larry Brown’s squad with the opportunity to change the sports culture at SMU by placing all the pieces around them. However it was ultimately up to the team to make the most important change of all: win big games.