When September comes around, most people look forward to the leaves changing and wearing jeans and sweaters. There is another sect of the population that unequivocally equates Fall with football, which means students everywhere covered in multi-colored body paint and wearing glittery beads, fans grilling hot dogs and drinking cheap beer, music playing out of car windows and a lot of animosity between the home and away team.
Going to a small liberal arts school means that Saturday football is not about seeing how rowdy you and your friends can get while cheering on your fellow classmates. While there are tailgates at our small school in upstate New York, they certainly do not compare to those you would attend at much larger schools such as Penn State or Clemson. In fact, what a small liberal arts university, like Colgate, prides itself on is the sense of community and belonging that is paired with athletics and its’ student-athletes.
The stadium is rarely packed to the brim and tickets are free for each student with a valid school ID. Students still dress in their school colors but, more often than not, they can feel confident cheering on the players, as they are most likely one of their group project partners from the fifteen-person class they attend together. There is a true sense of connection to the players and to the sport that is happening on the field below.
As I do not have first-hand experience of football season at a big state school, where football is their pride and joy, I do know that there is something romantic about the way football season happens at our small school upstate. The football team represents the school in a Division I league, where they compete against the highest level of competition. While many schools can say their football team also competes against quality competition that shows no mercy and true grit, there are certain things a small school can offer that a big school cannot when it comes to football season.
The stereotypical tailgate is complete with crazy stunts and a lot of food and beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. While our school does not stray too far away from this norm, being at a small school means that you cannot walk ten steps without recognizing someone who goes beyond your inner social circle. Yes, this does include seeing professors, faculty and administration who are quietly judging your character beyond the four walls of a classroom. This intimate presence is not atypical of a small school and it does make for more interesting conversations with your “boring” professors when Monday classes roll around.
Going to a small school also usually implies that you will in fact go and watch the game instead of remaining at the tailgate in the empty parking lot just outside the stadium. There is a greater chance that you will not have to pay for a ticket to get inside the stadium, which is incentivizing for any college student on a budget. Once you reach the stands, it is easy to find seats by which you and all of your friends can enjoy the game together. There are no assigned seats, which makes entering the stadium less stressful. When you finally sit down, you will be hard pressed not to see a familiar face or the family members of the players who are playing right in front of your eyes.
Similarly, if you are someone who does not quite understand the game of football, there is a greater likelihood you will come to understand terms like first-down and audible. If you were a student at a bigger school, I can only imagine the inability to hear your own thoughts and ask questions in a stadium filled with over 100,000 screaming fans.
While many people equate the idea of attending a small school with a student body that does not care for or support their athletic teams, the reality of this situation is just the opposite. There is an unwavering respect for every student-athlete that attends a small school, as it is understood that academics are not any easier for them as a regular student. Likewise, there is a greater accessibility to the fields these athletes play on, which means that the connections students make with the players during football season carry over to Saturday games when students can actually cheer their peers on by name.
The sense of community that fills the stadium and the parking lot before football games at a small school, like my own, is overwhelming. Singing groups perform, cheerleaders strut their school spirit, other athletes come with their entire teams and professors, faculty and administration are there to show the great amount of respect they have for the athletes that are most likely sitting front row in their classes.
Simply put, there is nothing quite like attending a football game in a stadium with a maximum capacity of 10,000 fans.