The dramatic disparity between Canadian and American university sports
BATON ROUGE, La. (CUP) — As I walked toward the centre of the Louisiana State University (LSU) campus in February, a mammoth building came into view, commanding all my attention. This was Tiger Stadium, home of the LSU Tigers football team. At first glance, it easily dwarfed Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium. As I gazed at the towering superstructure (which I later learned could seat an ungodly 92,400), it became apparent that I had entered a different world.
LSU’s world also includes the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, a white-domed building that houses the school’s basketball court. Inside the Center, I roamed the large halls filled with concession stands and saw walls adorned in the team’s colours (purple and gold), feeling as though I was attending a professional game.
I opened the doors to the seating area and saw 13,000 purple seats surrounding a shiny court with “LSU” painted at centre. A high-definition scoreboard hung overhead, along with the numbers of retired Tiger alumni, including No. 33 for Shaquille O’Neal. Almost every fan in attendance wore LSU apparel, including hats, shirts, and jackets. The beauty of the facility, the program’s celebration of its history, and the dedication of the fans was incomparable to any university in Canada.
At times, it was hard to remember that I was watching a basketball game. An entire section of the stands was devoted to the LSU band, which played high-tempo songs during stoppages in play. They were complemented by not one, but two, cheerleading teams, one of which changed outfits three times during the game. The entertainment was almost too distracting, even as the Tigers fell 60-59 to the Mississippi State University Bulldogs in the final minute of play.
As I exited the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, I saw groups of people approach a stone wall with glass windows. Feeling curious, I ventured forward. Plaques were displayed on the wall with six names — Mike I through Mike VI. Through the glass, I saw a jungle-like environment, complete with waterfall, lush plantings, a flowing stream, and a rocky plateau.
Then the orange and black beast appeared — Mike the Tiger, a real Bengal and the official LSU mascot, living happily inside a 15,000-square-foot habitat outside the Center. If there was a symbol of American college sports excess, this was it. LSU proved that through massive private investment, even animal mascots can come to life.
Next, I headed to Alex Box Stadium, home of the 2009 national collegiate baseball champions. The 9,000-seat ballpark featured a high-definition scoreboard with the batter’s picture, name, school and number.
Once again, everyone in attendance was in purple or gold. Both dugouts had “LSU Baseball” painted on their roofs, and everything was akin to the big leagues, except for the score — the Tigers easily chewed up their mismatched visitors, winning 25-7.
As I watched the game, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the University of Ottawa’s baseball team. The Gee-Gees competitive club made it to the semifinals of the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association last October — so talent-wise, there might be a parallel. But that’s where the similarities end.
The Gee-Gees play at Heritage Park in Orleans (far away from campus), which has no scoreboard, no concession stands (there’s a food shack), no “uOttawa” dugouts. There is a maximum attendance of about 100 people, and certainly no man-made habitat with a Garnet and Grey horse.
There is simply no comparison between the facilities and investment, both personal and financial, of Canadian and American university sports. But I wonder if the excesses in the U.S. are worth it — or even if they’re at all necessary. Mike the Tiger was certainly incredible to see, but aren’t there other causes more worthy of financial support? And what happens when the extraneous entertainment overshadows the game?
While there is nothing excessive about Heritage Park, there is also nothing there to detract from the games themselves. The happy medium, it seems, would be to find a way to combine the modest Canadian method that focuses on the games with the American ability to generate mass interest and fan support.
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