Shelter from the Storm

As I watched the Red Storm men’s basketball team play in the Big East tournament last week during spring break, a few things crossed my mind as a St. John’s student.

First, it felt great to be excited about my school. In my fourth and final year at this place, I’m thankful that I got the chance to experience a great St. John’s team, and the excitement that goes along with it. Students have visibly been more excited around campus and for the first time since I’ve been here, games are routinely selling out.

Take senior night, for example, when Carnesecca Arena was roaring and filled to capacity. It was a perfect scene to convey just how popular the team has gotten around campus. Students came out in force for a send-off pep rally on Monday afternoon and Tuesday when ESPN’s Brandon Tierney hosted his show live from the D’Angelo Center to discuss the Red Storm’s chances in the NCAA tournament.

But all of this energy and school pride that’s been building and was on full display at the pep rally didn’t really carry into Madison Square Garden last week when the team tried to make a deep run in the conference tournament. Instead, the Johnnies played an admirable, hard-fought Quarterfinal game in front of an MSG crowd that showed overwhelming support for the opposing Syracuse team. It was an army of orange filling the seats of MSG, not the local red as it had been all season long.

In past years, this wouldn’t be surprising at all—it would even have been expected. Teams like Syracuse and UConn have taken MSG as their official home away from home as the St. John’s teams of late have given fans little to be excited about.

But this year was different. This was the year of Steve Lavin and his roster of determined seniors, who beat six top 25 teams and finished in a three-way tie for third place in the toughest conference in the nation. And St. John’s students responded.

The student Red Zone events thrived this season more than I’ve seen in the past three years. In addition to selling out games on campus, MSG games have become more heavily attended by students, and the “Lavinwood” letters are now a signature sign of the St. John’s student section, even when the team traveled to New Jersey to take on Seton Hall. Considering this, it felt strange to see MSG dominated by Syracuse fans in that Quarterfinal game.

If you’re like me, you were probably watching the game on television, wondering why it was so hard to get tickets for the Big East tournament. After all, we are St. John’s students, and St. John’s students are used to being solicited to attend sporting events. Never before had I actively sought out tickets to a basketball game and come up short.

Asking around, I was told by everyone else who had looked for student tickets that they had found the same dead end. No one could understand why student tickets weren’t advertised on St. John’s Central or around campus bulletins.

Eventually I discovered that there were only a select amount of student tickets available, and those tickets were distributed through a lottery of season ticket holders.

Leave it to St. John’s to let students down when they want to see their team play the most.

So from a friend’s house, I watched the Red Storm take on the ‘Cuse, their annoying fans dramatically outnumbering the local Johnnie supporters who had either been lucky enough to win the ticket lottery, or shelled out a hefty sum on I couldn’t help but wonder why St. John’s students had been afforded no opportunity to see their school play in their own city, while Syracuse fans—traveling five hours from the remote fields of no man’s land—clearly had a ton of seats available to them.

I soon realized that it was entirely possible that Syracuse University had been sold the same amount of student tickets by the Big East as St. John’s, and that the reason they so heavily outnumbered us was simply because they were more dedicated. Maybe the orange supporters were more willing to buy pricey tickets on StubHub than St. John’s fans were. Maybe, as a fan base, St. John’s still had a ways to go before they reached the level of a school like Syracuse.

What really happened to keep the St. John’s supporters away from the Big East Tournament is hard to say for sure. I like to think that Syracuse fans simply traveled well (as they usually do) and St. John’s fans resorted to their old ways. If the University is at fault for the small amount of student tickets available last week, shame on them for letting students down in such a huge way.

Either way, I’ll be watching on St. Patty’s day, hoping the Johnnies can extend their magical season another game.