This past March, UConn fans went to New York City and truly made Madison Square Garden a home court during the NCAA East Regionals.
A lot of articles were written about how the Huskies own New York. For that weekend, it was like the old days when MSG was UConn's home away from home. The Connecticut borders extended to 34th and 7th.
However, that perception has not been the reality for the past few years. UConn has played many preseason and regular season games at Madison Square Garden and the Connecticut fans have been few and far between. The last two I can remember were the 2009 Preseason NIT Final against Duke and the following season's game against Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Invitational.
In last season's 2K Sports Classic championship game at MSG, we were embarrassingly outnumbered by Indiana fans. This was similar to my experience at the 2012 Jimmy V Classic against North Carolina State; both games I found myself sitting in a sea of red. Even the final few conference games against St. John's, when we could usually count on Huskies fans to fill the Garden, UConn fans largely stayed home.
A decade ago, it was almost impossible to get tickets to watch either the men's or women's basketball teams on either home court. If you didn't have season tickets, your best bet to see them live was to go to a road game. The games were always sold out regardless of who they were playing. Football was starting to get there, too.
Today, it seems fans only attend en masse when a marquee opponent comes to town. And after seeing it happen in basketball, our best sport, I worry what may happen, especially if this football season gets off to a rocky start.
Sure, there are plenty of excuses. Access to quality television has improved. Football can be difficult for families as the game times are always TBA. Driving to Hartford and paying the same high price for the lower bowl or the upper deck is frustrating. Storrs is a bit out of the way, especially on weeknights, not to mention the nightmarish parking situation on campus. The list of culprits could go on: the new conference opponents, the lack of quality non-conference opponents, the economy. UConn could also do a better job at marketing.
After the dual championship parade, Geno Auriemma challenged the crowd at the steps of the capitol building in Hartford to go to games and cheer on the Huskies-- in all sports. We need to meet his challenge.
As conference realignment has seemingly hit a lull, this is the time for all UConn fans to come out and support the Huskies in all sporting events. All the teams need fan support. We need to make a statement to the country and the P5 conferences that we support all of our teams. We need to make it known that Connecticut is a sleeping giant that belongs with the big boys. This area of the country cannot be ignored anymore.
It all starts in tonight at Rentschler Field and continues throughout the month of September and into the fall. BYU is a tradition-rich football power that will be a formidable foe to Bob Diaco's Huskies on the gridiron. The football schedule continues with Stony Brook and Boise State the following two Saturdays. The last game of the month is a conference game against Temple. All these games should be sold out. Yes, even Temple.
Another impression UConn fans need to make this year is to sell out the "neutral site" games in New York. In November, UConn football will play Army at Yankee Stadium. In December, the UConn men will play Duke in the Meadowlands on a Thursday night (what an awful location and date to play such a great game) and in early January the UConn women play St. John's at MSG. UConn fans need to make their presence known in the city we claim to own.
Get to as many home games as you can. If you're an alum, go to Bridgeport or Mohegan Sun when the Huskies visit those arenas for "home" games. If you can't, save your money and purchase tickets for the American Athletic Conference basketball tournaments at Mohegan Sun Arena and the XL Center in March. Don't just watch UConn; go support the student-athletes from around the conference. It‘s always fun to watch different teams play and root for the underdog. Heck, if you are free during Thanksgiving and love college hoops, check out the Hall of Fame Classic at Mohegan Sun.
Also, don't forget to check out hockey at both XL Center and Bridgeport this year as the team is entering the powerful Hockey East conference.
As fans we need to remember that we are here to support the student-athletes and the university. We are a big component in this conference realignment equation. Let's get to the games. Let's do our part regardless of who the Huskies are playing and be there wearing our national flag blue and white and screaming for our teams.
Let's Go Huskies!