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Irish disappoint hoops fans

Katie Perry | Wednesday, February 8, 2006

For smug ESPN college basketball commentators, Notre Dame’s five-game losing streak – the program’s worst since the 1993-94 season – is merely a punch line.

But the jokes are lost on the Irish’s most fervent student fans, who see the energy and spirit of the Leprechaun Legion dwindle with each last-minute loss.

“I think a lot of people will go [to home games] just because we put up such an entertaining game, but if this continues for much longer, attendance will start to taper because someone can only take so much heartbreak,” sophomore Matt Biscaia said.

Freshman Joe Mancuso said he expects fewer students to pack the Joyce Center for tonight’s game against Rutgers University.

“I’ll be there because I love basketball, but it’s hard enough to generate interest with a string of [tough losses] that basically crippled our chances to make a post-season run,” Mancuso said.

Leprechaun Legion president Yoko McCann said she worries about home game attendance when the team isn’t winning, but the nail-biting conclusions of recent games should warrant student support.

“What makes me optimistic is that at the very least, the games have been exciting,” she said. “With the team so obviously giving it their all [and] never quitting, I feel – hope – that the students will still have it in them to continue supporting Irish basketball.”

McCann said she hopes there are “good crowds” of students for all of the remaining four home games.

“No one likes to lose, but it’s too early to throw in the towel,” she said. “It will just kill me if we don’t have a full student section on hand against DePaul to say goodbye to the seniors as they play their final game for Notre Dame. If nothing else, they deserve that.”

But sophomore Francisco Del Valle said Notre Dame’s failure to win games will deter his home game attendance for the remainder of the season.

“I might go to the Marquette game because it’s the only good home game left, but at this point, I have lost all hope for our team,” he said.

McCann declined to comment on how lowered attendance might influence the number of tickets allotted for students in future seasons – which at this point would be speculative – but which has historically has been a factor.

“Students have voiced concern that more tickets should be made available; however, since attendance dropped [during the 2004-2005 season], the ticket office – and rightfully so – was not going to give out any more student tickets,” said Matt Walsh, who chairs the Student Senate’s University Affairs committee, in an Oct. 26 article in The Observer.

Mancuso said attendance is “a big concern” because Irish head coach Mike Brey has been trying to get the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students more and better seats for the past few years – but “we have done nothing to support him.”

“I hear the JACC might be redone in a couple of years, and if the students don’t want to get the short end of the stick again, we have to continue supporting the team,” Mancuso said.

The Leprechaun Legion has planned promotional events for the rest of the home season, including wigs for the first 150 students at tonight’s game, McCann said.

“We’ll be doing everything we can – within our diminishing budget – to keep spirits up,” she said.

But as the Irish fall further down the Big East Conference standings, students said it is hard to remain optimistic about the rest of the season. For fans at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, the Joyce Center is half empty – not half full.

Del Valle said the Irish are “probably the best 39-minute team in the NCAA,” but unfortunately that doesn’t equate into a post-season presence.

“I actually had hope in the fact the we could still make it to the Big East tournament, but we just can’t complete a game,” he said. “We are not bad. We play at the same level of our competition in every important game. We just need to lock it up.”

Unlike some of his peers, Mancuso said he is still “enthusiastic” and has not lost hope for the embattled Irish.

“We’ve proven we can play with the best on any given night,” he said. “All we have to do is make a run and get into the Big East tournament and continue that run throughout the tournament. A win at UConn would not hurt either.”

Mancuso said the Leprechaun Legion is becoming inundated with a somewhat less-than-loyal following, and “there is nothing worse than a fair-weather fan.”

“We should support the team no matter what, or else the program will suffer,” he said.

“I would love to see the fans get a little more into the game. We’re great at cheering after we make a three or a great play, but when our team needs us the most, the majority of the fans quietly look on – as an avid college basketball fan, it’s disappointing.”