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Shatel: What Nebraska fans think should happen with Huskers' student section
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Shatel: What Nebraska fans think should happen with Huskers' student section

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In the majority of big-time winning football programs, the students are made a factor at games. They are not forgotten, writes Tom Shatel. What happened to the Nebraska students?

On Friday's episode of the Carriker Chronicles, Adam gives his take on why the Huskers will reach six wins this season and earn Nebraska's first bowl appearance under coach Scott Frost.

Down in front? Not today.

Eric Loken went to Nebraska football games as a student in the late 1980s. His seats were behind the Husker bench on the east side of Memorial Stadium.

He stood during games, despite the calls from “blue hairs” behind him to sit.

The thing about blond and brown hair is that it all eventually turns blue. But Loken’s attitude about the need for a loud, relevant Husker student section has not aged or mellowed.

“I’ve been (complaining) about this for years,” Loken wrote me earlier this week.

“I have two sons that went to NU in the last eight years and they hated the student section. Aside from the poor seats the entire atmosphere has been toned down so it's more family friendly. I say to hell with that. Family friendly has meant more socializing and less focus on the game.”

Loken’s advice: Put the students behind the visitor’s bench, “turn them loose and breathe some life back into that place.

“I would get people in there that want to watch the game and get after it. Their desperation to hold on to that sellout streak is bringing in a dead crowd. Memorial Stadium wasn’t supposed to turn into a sewing circle.

“Sorry, but you hit something that’s bothered me the last 25 years.”

Eric wasn’t alone. Wow.

This topic struck a nerve with a lot of Husker fans. My email bin overflowed. Responses on Twitter piled up.

I’ve thought for the past 20 years or so that Nebraska’s student section is a wasted resource. One athletic director after another has shoved them into a corner in the name of donor priority.

This isn’t an unusual theme in college sports. However, in the majority of big-time winning football programs, the students are made a factor at games. They are not forgotten.

That’s certainly the case around the Big Ten, where students make their presence known by chanting, stomping and singing traditional school songs.

What happened to the Nebraska students? I've wondered for quite a while. I’m glad I’m not alone.

There were some readers who responded that as soon as Nebraska starts winning again, the atmosphere will return. Students, too.

But many, including Jay Proskovec — a former member of the “Pride of All Nebraska” — says why not let the students jump-start that winning.

“To the blue hairs of the world, this is not ballet, theater or golf,” Proskovec wrote. “Opposing teams need to feel the once great Sea of Red once again.”

Dale Spencer: “I would suggest to (Bill) Moos they better amp up the alumni connection. Also, my kids (24-29) would rather stay in the Railyard.”

Tom Lewis: “My son just graduated from Arizona State. You should Google the renovated Sun Devil Stadium. They completely tore it down and rebuilt it from the ground up. Lowered capacity, widened concourses, wide seats and luxury boxes.

“Student section and band are in the end zones. They are full and loud. Both end zones have open concourses similar to the CHI Health Center where one can enjoy an adult beverage and still watch the game.”

Rich Mannel: “We have lived in Illinois, Michigan, Arizona and Nebraska. The stadiums in which we have had the most fun college football experiences have had large, visible, active student sections.

“How do you get students to attend games? Tell the students over and over again how important they are to the game. At Arizona State, the athletic department and coaches regularly let the students know how important they were to the games ... and they responded.

“One thing we have noticed about Nebraska is that Husker fans really don’t seem to care about the students.”

Make students a bigger part of the game. But how? Where?

The readers pointed to two areas: one of the two end zones or an expanded east stadium section.

The latter gained a lot of support, especially with traditionalists such as Jon Elliott, Scott Yahnke and Robert Glenn — who were all part of the old “card” section on the east side during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Glenn said he was assigned to seats in the north and south end zones and east “card” section during his four years at NU. There was no question which was the best seat.

“This was a much better view for the games and a lot more fun for the students,” Glenn wrote. “The Husker team was also located on the east sideline, so the players and coaches were relatively nearby.”

Christa Rahl (Class of 2020) says she would tweak the current arrangement — taking the students in the southeast corner and putting them to the right of the NU band.

“This would give students amazing seats as they’d be edging close if not right onto the 50 and would also surround the band,” Christa wrote.

“The band runs the show. The band is the true cheerleader. Where the student section goes, the band must follow.”

Darren Vanness, who was an NU student from 1988-92, wrote, “My last two years I had seats on about the 40-yard line, 20 rows up. They were perfect and I was spoiled. I have not had better seats since.

“As students have been moved out, it is no wonder they do not attend as TV is a much better seat.”

Dave Feit, a columnist for huskermax.com, reiterated a suggestion he wrote in a column several years ago.

Feit’s plan: Move the Huskers from east sideline to west. Then put the NU students directly behind the east (visitors) bench and move the band down to be the centerpiece — “turning East Stadium into a raucous bowl of noise focused on the opposing bench and capable of boosting the volume in either end zone.”

Yes, sir, that has potential.

But there is no shortage of those who see the south or north end zone as a natural place for the student section to blossom.

One such endorsement came from Mike Gloor, a former Nebraska state senator from Grand Island.

Gloor brought up a Sports Illustrated edition from nearly two decades ago that ranked NU’s south stadium among the worst seats in college football.

Mostly because of lack of access to bathrooms and concessions and tight seating.

Gloor referred to it as “Cattle Pen South.” But, he wrote, put the students in the lower half of that section and use it as a reason to remodel, redesign and make it enviable seating.

“We, as Nebraskans, have reason to be proud of the UNL Engineering and Architectural School, so why not challenge the students to come up with what they want?” Gloor wrote.

Andrew Thernka suggested the north end zone, saying “I think the roar right above the tunnel entrance might be a few degrees noticeably louder as the team takes the field.”

Thernka added, with perception, that the section might be adjusted if the Tunnel Walk entrance is moved to the northeast corner when the new facility is finished.

Husker fan Shane wrote that new seats are great, but “there needs to be something inside the stadium which is not available outside. And no, it’s not beer.”

Shane’s suggestion: live music. Every game.

He would have a “big-name artist or band that resonates with students” appear at every home game. Play one song at halftime, a mini concert afterward.

With Garth Brooks about to turn on Memorial Stadium in August, it’s not a bad idea. Every game? That might get a bit expensive.

Maybe you do it a couple of times a season but don’t tell the students which games.

Great suggestions, everyone. Thank you for the responses. And passion.

I still recall standing on the field in the fourth quarter of a game at Memorial Stadium next to a colleague from the East Coast. This was back in the late 1990s, when national media regularly attended NU games.

After one play the entire crowd stood and roared, shaking the place. The East Coast scribe said, “This is the best atmosphere in college football.”

I think Nebraska fans are hungry for that again. And they recognize the importance of the student voice in building back that stadium brand.

Last words, from Garry Knopik: “Put them back where they were on the east side. Students are the future season ticket holders. Get them hooked.”

And Darrin Swanson: “I’d put them in the end zone, but close to the field. Not in the nose bleed section. However, if you move the students, the season ticket holders are going to squawk.

“Let them.”

Actually, I’ll get the last word, with my recommendations for a new student section, in my Tuesday column.

Let’s do this.


Omaha World-Herald: Big Red

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