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September 12, 2013

Column: CU needs earlier student support

It all seems perfect. The music blares from the speakers as video of Ralphie I through Ralphie V plays on the big screen. The crowd noise builds as the anticipation of watching the 1,300 pound buffalo run out with the football team boils over. Three iconic words "HERE COMES RALPHIE" send the crowd into chaos as the majestic beast and her handlers storm onto Folsom field followed by the Colorado Buffaloes. The greatest entrance in college football.

Only one problem.

As Ralphie begins to make her turn around the 20 yard line, the crowd's roar suddenly dims, as what is supposed to be the heart of that erupting crowd, the rowdiest of them all, the student section, is nearly empty. All of the sudden this grand entrance feels cheapened.

Now not only are CU's players not quite as jazzed as they could be, but as the game begins they are missing a large chunk of their home field advantage. Last season as all the students had moseyed in and finally filled the student section at the end of the second quarter the team was already trailing by an average of 27-9.

Now maybe you can say that there was nothing that could have helped that team. But can you say it would have hurt?

The question is why, why can't the students get into the games on time? As I watched students still filing into last weekend's game with less than four minutes left in the half I decided to find out.

Colorado student Eduardo Rodriguez who was seated behind the South end zone, typically reserved for the later showing students, explained his reasoning.

"We got in about halfway through the second quarter," he admitted. "I mean, it was pretty crowded, usually we try to get here a little bit later because we kind of don't want to deal with the rush."

Colorado associate athletic director and sports information director David Plati talked about that rush.

"The way that our stadium gates are with the tunnels, it's physically impossible to get a lot of people in when they all come at one time," he said. "The hope has always been that the students would come a little earlier and maybe get the team a little jazzed up during pre-game, and see Ralphie run. If you come 20-30 minutes early those problems start to go away. Of course we have a group of 200-300 really loyal fans who are here before anyone else, but it'd be nice to fill it up early."

So why not get in earlier to miss the rush instead of later?

"I'd probably say you know just the pre-game festivities," said Rodriguez. "Usually they run a little bit late, typically we're just trying to have a good time before the game."

Even for a game that started at six o'clock, the "pre-game festivities" prevented many students from getting in on time, but as Plati noted not every student gets in late. Nick Shearon, an active member of the C-Unit, known by many as "Buffman," is the hero Folsom Field deserves.

"I got here a little bit early. We waited in line at about 3:30 to make sure we were the first ones in, to get prime spots," he said, Master Chief helmet complete with buffalo horns in hand. "I think it's really important, first of all you get a great view of Folsom Field.

"It's that much better when you get to experience a growing and developing program from basically the sidelines. You get to feel a little bit more of the team when they are in front of you yelling, and you get to feel all of the energy of the rest of Folsom just pouring down onto the field from behind you."

Shearon explained why more students can't get into the game early, even if they don't come in donning black and gold armor from head to toe.

"I think the population at CU has a little bit of a reputation for tailgating," he stated. "That can lead to some students getting in a little bit later."

Shearon brainstormed possible solutions to the problem.

"Maybe if they had Chip out here early doing stupid human games, whether it be ridiculous basketball shots on the field from the middle of the section, or just random corn-hole shots from the stands," he said. "Maybe crazy contests or just something fun to do, make it as fun in here as it is out on the field."

Fellow student Tyler Sparks had a more simple solution.

"Honestly, If there was an entrance on the other end of the stadium it would be so much easier," he said.

But Plati doesn't believe that would work.

"Where would you put another entrance in relation to the student section?" he questioned. "If you put them on the other side, then they have to traverse all the way across the stadium, and that's where the other patrons are trying to get in anyway."

It seems as if the students and administration could go back and fourth all day placing blame on each other, but I think I have come up with a plan where everybody wins.

Anyone who follows the basketball program knows that for the last few years there has been a rewards program in place for the students who attend games at the Coors Events Center. It starts with a shirt for the first game they attend, moving up to a free burrito for 5 games, and the prizes get gradually bigger as the season goes on leading up to the grand prize of a trip to Vegas and the Pac-12 tournament for the top 50 students in terms of attendance. Say what you will about former athletic director Mike Bohn, but he struck gold with this one.

Now it is new athletic director Rick George's turn to bring this program to the football games, but with a twist. The same gradual rewards system for students is put into place, but you only get credit for the game if your card is swiped before kickoff. In the future the grand prize can be a trip to the bowl game, but for now the attendance awards would be connected to the basketball grand prize. Additionally, students who made it into all the football games on time, get priority tickets to big basketball games such as Kansas and Arizona, that normally sell out for students. Use your strengths as an athletic department to pick up your weaknesses.

Something must be done. The players deserve it, and the greatest entrance in college football deserves it.

George has shown nothing but promise so far as the athletic director. This is an easy way for him to show he is in tune with the problems at Colorado and willing to try to fix them.

Oh, and also, make sure that Ralphie actually runs.


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