You’ve heard it at every Arizona Wildcats football game this year. You’ve probably said it yourself.
Where are the students?
Attendance has been light all year and by the time the fourth quarter rolls around the ZonaZoo has often resembled a petting zoo. What needs to be done to fill up the student section again?
Bring back the fun. Bring back rushing the field.
Early in the Mike Stoops era the students were indeed zoo-like. The section was crammed with 10,000 energetic bodies and the noise was deafening. The tighter the game, the louder it got and if the Cats pulled off the win you knew what was coming next.
The Zoo is on the field!
Oh, what a sight it was. A sea of red at Arizona Stadium. Rushing the field became so synonymous with the ZonaZoo that you can still see it in Pac-12 Network promos. But then it went away. More specifically, it was taken away.
A five-foot concrete wall was built in front of the student section before the 2010 season, making it an eight-to-10 foot drop down to field level onto more concrete. Add in the noticeably larger police and security presence and field rushing wasn’t just slowed, it was eliminated. The Zoo had been caged.
I understand the safety and liability concerns but pouring out of the stands is a part of college football. When you don’t see any fans on the field after beating USC at home for the first time since Ka’Deem Carey was six years old, the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
No student is going to say, “I leave games early or don’t come at all because I can’t rush the field,” but you will hear, “I had other things to do.” Translation: “I was doing something I thought was more fun.”
It’s really simple. If college kids aren’t studying they want to be having fun. More fun equals more students.
What’s the most fun you can have at a college football game? Besides an attractive classmate falling into your lap? Students want to get on TV and rush the field after a big win.
Celebrating on the turf with fans and players is the one part of the game day experience that can’t be mimicked with high definition TVs. You don’t get to be a part of it unless you are in the stadium and you miss out if you’re not there until the very end.
This is not to take anything away from the students who have stayed four quarters every game this year. They are the football fanatics and they do a great job supporting their team. I wish there were 10,000 student die-hards but there aren’t.
In order to attract (and keep) the casual fans you have to provide them with something extra and the possibility of rushing the field is it. The time has come to bring it back.
It reminds you of another barrier in history that kept people from freedom and a powerful call for change.
Greg Byrne has done a tremendous job since taking over as athletic director at Arizona. The Wildcat Walk and new scoreboard have brought football fans closer to the game. The baseball team’s move to Hi Corbett Field paid immediate dividends. I’m completely on board with Rich Rodriguez and seeing where he can take this thing.
RichRod has already had some big wins at Arizona. He’s going to have bigger ones. Let the ZonaZoo celebrate them in the biggest way possible.
Now, I’m not calling for complete chaos. As we discussed before, there should be selective field-rushing. Wins over bad teams don’t count. Wins with nothing at stake don’t cut it. And anyone leaving the stands before the game is over should be strapped to the bleachers and forced to watch the entire 2003 season. But fan false starts have been a part of Arizona Football for at least 20 years.
Byrne and Rodriguez have the longest-suffering Wildcat fans dreaming big again. You can imagine a time when the Wildcats clinch a Pac-12 South championship at home. Close your eyes and think about it. What do you see?
Exuberance. Overwhelming pride from the alumni. And the ZonaZoo rushing the field.
Mr. Byrne, the fun is in your court. I know you had valid reasons for containing the student section and you probably feel you can’t tear down the wall.
But if you want a packed student section again, at least put in a gate.
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