I was at the game on Saturday night. The game in which BYU beat UNLV 42-23. I had a great time. Thank goodness I've got seats with Ross, Jeris, Lance and Eric. Becky and Megan were there too, and the seven of us (plus Gabe) had lots and lots of fun talking, laughing, freezing our bums off and casually watching BYU play a meaningless game against a terrible opponent.
It was a classic November game in the Independent BYU era. All it was missing was the 8:30 p.m. start time.
The stadium was maybe 2/3 full at its fullest, which was a period of probably 12 minutes in the second quarter. By the time the game ended, I bet there were only 200 people left in the stands. Which had to be a blow to the ego of the nice little man who came to midfield to invite BYU to the Miami Beach Bowl.
It was supposed to be a blackout. You know, the thing where all the fans wear black? To make it more effective, though, the BYU marketing people should have painted the benches black. Because that's all we saw.
Looking around at the empty seats made me sad. I don't blame people for not showing up. If I didn't see this as a fun night out with friends, I probably wouldn't have gone either.
Parenthetically, how depressing is it that BYU home games have been reduced to "night out" status? It's one notch above wandering around the mall for an hour.
Anyway, looking around at all the empty seats made me think. I started to remember my past experiences at BYU home games. When I was a kid I used to go to games with my dad and my older brothers. I remember Notre Dame coming to Provo, UCLA, Virginia, Washington and others. I remember big conference games against Air Force (I hated Air Force as a kid), San Diego State and of course Utah.
When I was a student at BYU, during the John Beck/Max Hall years, I joined the sold-out BYU crowds (66,000 strong every week) to watch BYU destroy Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico and the rest. I remember tough games against TCU every year, and epic November finales against Utah. I rushed the field with thousands of other students and fans when we beat New Mexico in 2006 to secure the MWC championship.
Last Saturday the only thing the students were rushing was the exit. In the third quarter.
My BYU fanaticism was born of experiences I had when I was a kid and when I was a student. Today's students and kids aren't as lucky as me; exhilarating experiences like I enjoyed every week are few and far between these days. Today's students and kids are being force-fed meaningless, lackluster, energy-depleted games late at night in the freezing cold against awful teams. It's looking more and more like today's students would rather be in the library than in the crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
That does not bode well for BYU, and it's exactly what I mean when I say independence is killing BYU football. If independence is BYU's long-term plan, then get ready to see even more sparse, quiet crowds and even more fans that sink deeper and deeper into apathy.
Yeah, Saturday's crowd made me sad. It looked to me like a BYU fanbase that has been beaten down by years of mediocre football, meaningless games and an ESPN "partner" who sees us as nothing more than three hours of content on a Saturday night. The fans are tired of it, and they're voting with their cars.
Hopefully Tom Holmoe, Kevin Worthen and the BYU Board of Trustees can figure out an alternative to independence, because if they don't the future of BYU football is going to be very sad.