Purple Hair’ Brings Fans To Opener (Women’s Basketball)

Matt Baker

By Matt BakerThe Daily Northwestern

As the Wildcats warmed up before Sunday’s game against Iowa, Northwestern coach Beth Combs hid in the locker room, keeping her hair a mystery.

But when Combs emerged onto the court, her normally golden locks were dyed purple, a testament to the Cats’ largest home crowd in more than two years.

NU had hyped its Big Ten home opener for months as the Purple Hair Dare: if presold tickets exceeded 3,000, Combs would dye her hair purple. The first 500 fans received free purple wigs.

The team used the colorful publicity stunt to boost its anemic attendance. Prior to Sunday’s game, NU ranked last in the Big Ten in attendance with an average of 676 a game – just one-sixth of the conference average of 3,689. NU’s average attendance last year was 553; the Big Ten average was 4,602.

But Sunday, the roar of an announced attendance of 3,121 screaming fans erupted when Combs entered the court sporting purple hair. The noise continued throughout the game, drowning out the sounds of the action on the court in the Cats’ 63-61 loss to Iowa (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten).

“When we go on the road, this is the kind of crowd we see,” freshman Beth Marshall said. “We enjoyed the crowd and the Purple Hair Dare and everything – we wanted to absorb all of that.”

Marshall said NU (6-10, 0-3) responded to the crowd’s cheers and purple wigs, coming out with intensity from the opening minutes and nearly upsetting an Iowa team that barely lost to No. 7 Ohio State on Dec. 31.

“When we hear the little kids, football players and our parents yelling, we know they’re behind us,” Marshall said. “And it means so much to everyone.”

Combs said the enthusiastic crowd made a strong contribution to one of NU’s best efforts of the season. The Cats are hoping more crowds like Sunday’s will give them a home-court advantage that keeps them competitive in the Big Ten.

“We need to get people here; there is no question,” Combs said. “We need students at our games. We need the Northwestern community at our games.

“This is good basketball – I think you guys saw it today. We need students to come out here and support us every game. It’s fun, and it makes for a great environment.”

But according to the Cats, there is still more to be done to convince students to trek to games. Marshall said the team has to continue to play as it did Sunday and start winning games if it hopes to build its fan base among students.

“(Low attendance) is frustrating…but we know we have to earn it,” Marshall said.

NU is hoping Sunday’s exciting finish will go a long way in increasing fan turnout. And if it took a publicized dare and a new hair color to make it happen, Combs said she is happy to oblige.

“If it inspires these guys, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]