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Pep rally system problematic

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, November 11, 2005

Notre Dame seems to have a penchant for tickets and the complicated distribution processes that go with them.

Student attendance at football games – both home and away – and men’s basketball games is already tangled up in complicated ticketing schemes. Now the University has made the mistake of adding pep rallies to the mix.

The newest process requires the non-student public to have tickets to enter the Joyce Center for pep rallies. This decision grew out of Notre Dame’s desire to avoid forcing fans to wait in long lines to see the pep rallies, only to turn them away at the packed-to-capacity JACC’s door – an admirable sentiment.

But distributing tickets means the pep rally organizers need to save seats for students, which is where problems arise. How many seats should be allocated for students?

For the Tennessee pep rally last week, the Student Activities Office valiantly argued in favor of allocating the most seats possible for students and succeeded in convincing organizers to allow for 6,000 students. Unfortunately, only about 2,400 students attended, and sections of the JACC stood empty, leading organizers to cut student seats to 3,000 for tonight’s Navy pep rally and for the Nov. 18 Syracuse pep rally, the last of the year.

While no estimate will be perfect, a reduction this severe increases the likelihood that students could be turned away from the Joyce Center – a situation that could turn ugly fast.

What’s most puzzling, however, is that none of the organizers involved in setting the estimate of student seats seems to recognize that student attendance is bound to fluctuate due to various impossible-to-control factors – time of year, quality of opponent, the football team’s performance and so on. Students are more apt to attend the first and last pep rallies of the year and the pep rally for the highest-ranked opponent of the season. The other pep rallies will most likely have lower attendance.

And if organizers choose to overlook those factors in favor of aiming to keep student attendance at a certain number – say, 6,000 – they need to make changes to the pep rallies themselves.

For the public, a pep rally is a novel event. If a fan from out of town only has tickets to one football game per year, he or she will probably only see one pep rally. So this attendee probably won’t mind waiting in line, then waiting inside the JACC, then seeing the hour-long pep rally at which the football team is only present for half an hour.

But students see things differently. Six pep rallies a year, for which dorms show up more than an hour early, become tiring. Students do not want to stand in the bleachers for an hour and a half, then wait another half an hour after the start of the pep rally to see what they’re really there to see – the football team, the featured speakers and the band. Pep rallies are supposed to fire up the student body, and all the waiting around takes away from much of that goal.

In previous decades, pep rallies were short and sweet – pack in the students, march out the band and the team, and less than an hour later, everybody went home excited for the football game. But the drawn-out pep rallies of today – especially the often painfully unfunny student speakers – do not accomplish that goal. If Notre Dame expects 6,000 students to attend every pep rally, it should trim down its pep rally programming to the core elements – band, coach, players, featured speakers – that have excited students for years.

The most prudent course of action on the part of the organizers would be to return to the ticket-less admission system. There should be a willingness to risk turning away people at the door rather than leave whole sections of the JACC empty – and the JACC would always be filled regardless of how many students arrived.

But if Notre Dame would like to stick with its tickets – as history has shown it is wont to do – then an effort needs to be made to tailor the pep rallies more to what students want to cheer for.