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The Death of the Sixth Man

Jan 3, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

Photo by Matt Cashore

Rachel Murphy, an official 2013-14 basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at St. Mary’s College. Over the course of the year Rachel will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Rachel (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

Take a look at any powerhouse college basketball program and behind the starting lineup is the “sixth man”. This man is the student section, an entity whose impact can break the competition. They create an atmosphere for the home team to thrive in and for the visiting team to fear.

At Notre Dame, the sixth man is dead. Ok, maybe not dead, but currently a missing person. Besides the fifteen or so students that show up week after week, Purcell Pavilion’s student section is nearly empty. On game day Purcell could easily be mistaken for the grotto, except the grotto probably has more students in attendance.

I recently sat down with legendary Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps and discussed this issue.

“I mean for us not to have at least three or four thousand students at home games…that’s tough,” said Phelps, whose frustration is obvious. Phelps, who sits up front in the media section is handed the attendance numbers each and every game. It’s become ritual for him to look at the numbers, shake his head in dissatisfaction and hand the paper right back. His disappointment is understandable considering the crowds his famed team drew when he headed the program.

“We had 4000 students at every home game,” said Phelps, “You see what Duke’s doing today? JV compared to our student body, I mean they were the best, and I let them be a part of it.”

In those days Purcell was packed to the rafters, students eager to cheer on the Irish. Fast forward to now, with a student body of almost 12,000 the university sold only around 1800? student ticket booklets. Where has that passion gone?

Sure Notre Dame isn’t in high season yet, but that’s no excuse. During the season thus far, you can practically hear crickets coming from the student section. Students are just not showing up. Its not enough to just show up for the high profile games, being a fan means being in the stands for the most insignificant of games.

In Notre Dame’s home loss to Indiana State, commentators even noted on national television the deafening silence in Purcell. A greater student presence would have created a better atmosphere and perhaps altered the outcome of the game.

If things don’t change Notre Dame’s student section will become the laughing stock of college basketball.

“It goes back to winning really,” said Phelps. Look at every winning program. Wins draw crowds. But at the same time, attendance is conducive to winning. If students start showing up and making their presence known, wins will come easier.

“You could challenge them,” offers Phelps, “The key is you gotta convince them that we need you in there as the sixth man.”

And the Irish do need their sixth man. They need the extra edge that an electric student section provides. In Phelps’ days the student section was practically a member of the team. After beating an undefeated San Francisco at home the student body was announced the most valuable player of the game.

That’s what we need our students to do now. “Were you there as a student?” Phelps asks, “No? Well then you’re a part of the loss.” The responsibility doesn’t fall just on the team, but on the student section as well, or lack thereof.

Students owe it to the program to be there. Leprechaun Legion needs students to show up for their team. If Notre Dame students’ want a successful season, they simply must show up.

“I wanna throw it back at them,” said Phelps, “Its our place, its our house, where are you at, the library? Please.”

That’s a challenge, students, are you up for it?

  1. Mark - Jan 3, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    As someone who goes to games the attendance has gone down, but how about putting a product on the court that doesn’t lose in the first round of the tourney every year? The student section was rocking 3 years ago when the Irish were #4 and when they beat #1 Syracuse the year after, but mediocre efforts against the likes of North Dakota State and Indiana State doesn’t draw fans.

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Welcome to In The Paint, the official blog providing in-depth and exclusive access to the Notre Dame basketball programs. With features, videos, photos, commentaries and news from inside the Purcell Pavilion, we are committed to bringing you coverage of the Fighting Irish unlike any you can find elsewhere.

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