Duck fans are burnt out with Autzen blowouts
Students run towards the best seats in Autzen Stadium two hours before Oregon’s game with the Washington Huskies. (Alex McDougall/Emerald)”
It had been 261 days since the Oklahoma Sooners crushed the hearts of thousands of Duck fans in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl when Adrian Peterson and the Sooners started right where they had left off, jumping to a 33-20 lead with three minutes left at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 16, 2006. Sensing imminent doom, Duck fans dipped out of the stadium early, getting a head start on the traffic. Nearly a decade later, Duck fans continue to file out of Autzen before the final horn blows, but recently, it’s been for a different reason.
Bruce Roby, who owns Oregon Mint and has passed out Track Town Pizza coupons outside of Oregon sporting events for 41 years, remembers the Oklahoma game vividly.
Last season the Ducks shut out the Arizona Wildcats 49-0 at Autzen Stadium. (Nate Barrett/Emerald)
“There were a whole bunch of people leaving, but people were listening on the radio and all of a sudden, they bowed their heads and the crowd started to turn around and head back,” Roby said.
With three minutes on the clock, quarterback Dennis Dixon led the Ducks on a quick scoring drive and then sat on the sideline while Luke Bellotti successfully completed a miraculous and controversial onside kick. Seconds later, Oregon scored again, sealing out the Sooners 34-33.
Yet recent success has brought about another reason for fans to leave Autzen other than to avoid witnessing a loss: boredom.
Since 2009, only 19 regular season games have been won within a 20-point margin, six of those being home games, while the average margin of victory for the other 29 games is more than 36 points.
“Sports fans want a close game and when the third-string units are playing in a 40-point blowout, it’s not quite as attractive to fans who know the game is in hand,” former Pit Crew Vice President Grant Gurewitz said.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who dislikes winning, but the hoards of Duck fans Roby sees leaving early is a definite sign that it isn’t as exhilarating as it could be. Programs like Florida, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, LSU and Texas A&M join Oregon — which dropped three percent in average attendance from 2011 and averaged the lowest home attendance mark since 2002 — in declining attendance, yet those teams won 88 percent of the time and combined for 81-11 in 2012.
But pre-game attendance isn’t what truly affects the quiet fourth quarters — it’s the fans who leave early.
The average college student only gets a total of 132 days — Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays — per year to party, which means wasting some of that time watching the Ducks beat Arizona by 49 doesn’t become a high priority after the third quarter according to Marc Torrence, the sports editor of The University of Alabama’s Crimson White.
“I don’t think people want to wake up and see a 56-0 slaughter,” Torrence said. “And even in the evening games, the games don’t get over until 11 p.m., and that’s valuable party time where you could’ve been out with your friends instead of watching Alabama run the ball every play in the fourth quarter up (38-7) against Mississippi State. I would imagine it’s kind of the same thing that happens at Oregon.”
Roby’s observations match this phenomenon. He says that in recent years, he’s had to show up outside of Autzen earlier and earlier in recent years to hand out coupons, citing the excessive amount of students heading home early.
“It seems like there was more of a religious thing a few years ago,” Roby said. “Like, ‘No matter what I’m not going to miss the game,’ type of thing. And I think that since they’re winning it seems like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to win, so it doesn’t matter if I go or not.'”
This type of expectation isn’t rare among elite squads that have the manpower to run up the score — both Alabama and Oregon have averaged a 25-point winning margin over their opponents in the past four seasons, reaching almost 30 points in the 2012 season — but rare or not, the problem still exists.
“I think there definitely is a sense of complacency and entitlement among students,” Torrence said. “It’s like when you’re going to a game, it’s not a question of if you’re going to win, it’s a question of by how much. You almost go in expecting to be bored by the third quarter because it’s such a blow-out, but when it’s not a blow-out everybody’s thinking, ‘Wait, what’s going on here? This isn’t normal.'”
In an effort to face the issues at hand, former ASUO Athletics Commissioner Katherine DuPont polled 595 students gauging interest in penalizing students who leave before the end of the 3rd quarter of football games.
Oregon players celebrate with the Fiesta Bowl trophy following the Ducks’ 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on January 3, 2013. (Alex McDougall/Emerald)
The response: a resounding ‘no,’ with more than 60 percent of students voting against any punishment. But in documents handed down to Daniel Nettles, the new ASUO athletic director, DuPont passed down information from schools like South Florida, Penn State, Tennessee, NC State and Georgia outlining ideas on how to retain student attendance and ensure that the student fans that want to stay for the entire game are able to receive tickets.
Yet regardless of what fans think of the game, the players enjoy being able to attribute the wide margin to their preparation.
“I enjoy the blow-outs because that means that our preparation worked that week, and that it’s gonna continue to work,” senior wide receiver Josh Huff said during media day. “But I also wouldn’t mind playing a close game like a Stanford, or an Auburn game, or any other game. I wouldn’t mind playing that game to see how my teammates react, and to see how well we work in adversity. When it comes to a close game and I know that I can count on those guys to left and to the right of me to outperform the player that they are lined up across; that’s what we’re working on.”
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