I’ve been struggling lately. The last three losses have been tough to take. So much so that it has taken me nearly a week to write about each game and I’m writing this as I am watching the Iowa game.

This season has lead my to question some of my beliefs about the team/fan relationship.

The fan and the team have entered into an agreement. The entire sports relationship is based on this agreement, though it has never been written down, signed, or even spoken aloud.

It is a symbiotic relationship. Without the team there are no fans, and without the fans there is no need for a team. They each provide, for the other, important services.

The team provides the fans with, at the basest level, entertainment and distraction, but much more than that, the team provides the fan with a sense of community, of belonging. They also allow the fan to experience the glory of victory without having to put in the work.

The fans provide the team with support, both financial and emotional, as well as a sense of purpose. Every team plays to win for themselves, but also for their fans.

But this is not a relationship without expectations. The fans expect the team to win. That is a given, but on a more fundamental level, the fans expect the team to represent them. If the fan sees the team as an extension of himself, and he must in order to gain any sense of pride or accomplishment from the successes of the team, then he expects the team to live up to the ideals he has for himself. No one wants to be disappointed in his own actions. The same is true for his larger self, his team.

When the team is not meeting the expectations of the fan, the fan has the right, and I would even argue, the responsibility to do his part to help the team meet those expectations.

The fan cannot go onto the court and play, or go into the locker room and coach, but there are things the fan can do, though not all of them are appropriate or effective at all times.

1.) The fan can cheer harder. If it seems that the team is suffering from a lack of confidence or motivation the fan can let the team know they have his support.
2.) The fan can boo. This is much more appropriate at the professional level. College kids, more often than not, need the support of their fans and hearing your fans boo you is not likely to help. Sometimes the pros need to know that their job performance is not acceptable. Sometimes, Santa needs to hear about it too.
3.) You can quit going to the games. This again is another approach better used against the pros. It tells the owners, in the only way they will hear it, that the fans expect a better product on the field or the court. If they can spend less, put out a crappy product, and still take your money, they will continue to do so. Sadly, the attendance in Assembly Hall this year indicates that some of us have decided this is the way to express their discontent. I don’t think this is helpful.
4.) You can criticize the play of the team in very specific terms. I am a big fan of this one. A lucid, intelligent assessment of the teams’ problems can be useful. Calling the team, or the players, names not so much. But pointing out that this guy isn’t rebounding or playing good help defense, or that the coach is continually employing a strategy that doesn’t work, is constructive. Where I struggle with this is in relation to this year’s team. I’m not sure that a group of freshmen, who mostly need to be built up, will benefit from being told repeatedly why they are failing.
5.) You can give up and wait until next year. This is the coward’s way out. If this is your plan, you are not a true fan. If the team is an extension of the fan (as I believe it is) the true fan cannot give up on the team any more than they can give up on themselves.

This team, over the last three games has not been meeting my expectations, and those are not tied up in wins and losses, but in quality of play. For now, I am going to cheer louder. They need our support. But, after getting a good chunk of Big Ten games under our belts, freshmen cease to be freshmen, and option four becomes much more appropriate.

I am still hopeful for our prospects of improvement over the course of the next two months, but I need to start seeing it. My heart can’t take much more.

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