I was making another mundane drive down I-95 this week when a billboard caught my eye. I looked out and saw Carly Fabbri, Aryn McClure and the women’s basketball team bench cheering with a congratulatory message praising the team’s run to the Sweet 16. On a separate drive, I saw that a local laundromat had also posted a message facing out on Whitney Avenue sending luck to the team.
Come this past Friday, some people had thrown a team frame over their Facebook profile pictures. Earlier in the week, the bookstore changed its display to basketballs and Sweet 16 T-shirts. The university even published a Facebook video, which went viral, explaining the Quinnipiac’s pronunciation after commentators flubbed it in their broadcasts.
The Bobcats had created a basketball frenzy at a “hockey school.” In the past week, the term “Quinnipiac” has reached its third-highest traffic of the past five years, according to Google trends. The only periods when the school was a hotter topic was in early April of 2013 and 2016, stretches when the men’s ice hockey team reached the national title games.
This suggests that Quinnipiac has a winning culture as opposed to a hockey culture, right? Hold your horses.
Seven Quinnipiac teams won titles in the 2015-2016 season. Along with men’s ice hockey, the Bobcats won championships in women’s rugby, women’s cross country, women’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, women’s golf and women’s tennis. The rugby team captured its first national title while the women’s golf and men’s lacrosse teams made their debuts in their respective national tournaments. What kind of love did they receive?
When the women’s golf team made the NCAA Tournament, the university only dedicated two tweets to the action. While the national tournament win for the men’s lacrosse team and NIRA National Championship win for women’s rugby garnered more university attention on social media, @QuinnipiacU did not direct live attention to it. Rewind to the NCAA title game for the men’s ice hockey team on April 9, and the university was running social media from the press box of Amalie Arena, giving live updates to a nationally-broadcasted game.
This doesn’t suggest that Quinnipiac and its community are fair-weather fans. It tells that #BobcatNation roots for teams when it serves a personal purpose.
The school is perfectly fine with it, too.
“I try to look at not just the team’s athletics in terms of their success on the field, or on the ice or on the court, or wherever it is, but what it is doing to extend the good name of Quinnipiac far and wide.”
Those are words from University President John Lahey in an interview with The Quinnipiac Chronicle last April in regards to an email he sent out congratulating the men’s ice hockey team following its Frozen Four run. The women’s rugby team followed up that email with a tweet that said it would have liked the same recognition and included a hashtag saying “#stopignoringfemaleathletes.”
Quinnipiac has made it no secret that it will delegate support to teams based on the recognition they bring to the university. Similarly, students will support the teams that bring along the best personal benefits.
While Quinnipiac students get a premium college hockey product on the ice, that is not necessarily what attracts them to the game. If it was, then contingents wouldn’t leave Saturday tilts early to embark on their raucous, and often regrettable, trips to Toad’s Place.
Many of the loudest fan moments I have heard at High Point Solutions Arena had little to do with on-ice play. Singing and dancing along to “Tequila,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” are light-hearted Quinnipiac staples that take place in a hockey rink. The same student section, however, also loves to bond over yelling “SUCKS” after the opposition’s player introductions.
Yes, there are people who are hooked on rooting for the hockey team. However, Quinnipiac games are equal parts Snapchat opportunity, pregame location and social gathering as they are hockey spectacles.
The same effect has not applied to other sports. The perennially dominant women’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse and women’s rugby teams here at Quinnipiac will not garner the same attention because they are not seen as flashy sports or stories students can show to their friends at home.
Four letters separate these sports from the runs women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey have pulled off: ESPN. Until these teams are accepted and embraced by local and national media, the fans will not see them as an equally valuable asset to share with their friends.
The women’s basketball team’s run to the Sweet 16 was the culmination of decades of work. Yet, when someone brings up Quinnipiac basketball in the coming weeks or months, what will come first: a selfless team that made an improbable trip through the NCAA tournament or Geno Auriemma stunting a Quinnipiac T-shirt like Clark Kent?
As a Connecticut resident, I am honestly not sure. People gobbled up the story that Auriemma was supporting his in-state competitor, and the broadcast made a point of bringing the photos during Quinnipiac’s loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
Frankly, the school is more concerned with Quinnipiac building its brand than how it gets there, and students want to be seen along with it.