Man, is it easy to be a Michigan State fan when you live in mid-Michigan.
You can hardly drive a half mile without encountering the block S logo. Everywhere you go, people are decked out in green and white gear. Bumper stickers and billboards boast Spartan pride.
And when you go to a game, the fans are passionate and numerous.
The Spartan faithful have it good.
I’m a huge fan of the MSU women’s basketball team. And I’m not alone. Our Spartan women rank in the top 10 nationally for attendance this season (and in the top 15 for the past nine seasons), and home games are a festive, loud affair, with an average of 7,094 in the stands.
Fans feel like a part of Coach Suzy Merchant’s family.
Going on the road to cheer them on? That’s harder.
First, not every school has the fan base MSU does, particularly when it comes to women’s basketball. When you look at the 2,009-per-game average crowd for a school like U-M, it’s easier to appreciate the devotion we experience within the walls of the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. And crowd size aside, there are some venues where, no matter how large or small the home fan base, it’s a pretty inhospitable environment for the visiting team and its supporters (I’m looking at you, Maryland).
My partner and I have had the good fortune to travel for the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament the past several years, serving as ambassadors to MSU alumni in the host cities. The Spartans far from the East Lansing city limits are always thrilled to see some additional green and white in the stands. The host fans? Well, they haven’t always been so gracious. (Let’s just say we’re not too jazzed about Maryland being added to the Big Ten in the fall.)
Whether it’s ire directed at the opposing team (hey, fair, we’ve all been there) or actual hostility toward fans of the visitors, our experiences have ranged from warm and welcoming (Notre Dame) to downright mean (did I mention Maryland yet?).
All of this has gone a long way to shape how I react to traveling fans visiting East Lansing. I’m fully prepared to admit I have never uttered a kind word about a certain Ohio State women’s point guard. But now, having been out on the road for regular season games and tournament play, I get it. I get that it’s incredibly important to the team to have fan support away from home. I get that it’s fun as a fan to watch your team play in a different venue (and really appreciate what you have at home). And I get that it’s good for the local economy to have fans travel to East Lansing to root for their own teams.
So I’ve started thanking people.
I’m trying not to be one of those weirdos who walk around shaking people’s hands and making them uncomfortable, but I definitely smile at more people wearing blue or red or gold or purple team gear at our games. And I’ve actually said “thank you” and “welcome to East Lansing” to a few of them, being careful to keep my tone friendly.
As we enter the most wonderful time of the year – on my calendar, that’s March Madness – here is my wish for you: I wish you’ll find a way next season to hit the road for an away game. Wear your Spartan gear proudly, spend money (and be grateful our hot dogs don’t cost $6 apiece) and be the class-act fan I know you can be.
And then come home and relish the fan experience you have in East Lansing. Sure, we hear sports analysts say all the time that the Breslin Center is one of the top places in the nation to watch a college basketball game. But sometimes we can’t understand that until we get out there and see what it’s like for other fans.
As I said earlier, the Spartan faithful have it good.