Goodman: Football game-day changes hurt student experience

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

I always look forward to the yearly football game during Wildcat Welcome. I love seeing my friends, watching the band and rooting for my Wildcats. However, this past Saturday morning, I didn’t enjoy the experience nearly as much as I had in the past. This is mainly because of changes made to the student tailgating area known as Fitzerland and the newly located student section within Ryan Field.

The first thing I did Saturday morning was head to Fitzerland with my friends. For those who haven’t experienced Fitzerland, it is a beautiful grassy area just outside of Ryan Field roped off for students to tailgate. Last year was the inaugural year of the new tailgate area, which was packed with students before every game. Students grilled burgers and hot dogs, tossed mini footballs and yes, drank many varieties of cheap beer.

But this year, because of a combination of some existing and new policies, Fitzerland was almost empty and had no game day atmosphere. Students sat on the lifeless lawn and left for the game very early. Because security personnel monitored the entrance of Fitzerland asking for WildCARDs, students were turned away or just didn’t enter. Charcoal grills, like last year, had to be reserved in advance for a fee, and there was only one grill firing (admittedly though, their grilled English muffins looked delicious). Maybe it will get better when the freshmen are allowed to enter Fitzerland, but it was honestly the least fun tailgate that I have ever attended.

My friends and I then headed toward the new student section at Ryan Field, located in the southeast corner of the stadium. I actually enjoyed having significantly more room in the student section without the overhang and wall limiting us at the previous location. I also found ‘CatVision, Ryan Field’s large video scoreboard, much easier to see and experience.

However, I felt removed from the action sitting on one of the curves of Ryan Field. I felt that the student section’s growls and noises could only affect the opposing team when they were in the red zone directly in front of us. I couldn’t hear either marching band’s performance during halftime. When special guests, like other Northwestern athletic teams or Evanston aldermen, were brought onto the field, we were facing their backs. Although it is nice for the new student section to have a better view of the stadium and more space, it doesn’t make sense for it to be on what has traditionally been considered the “visitor’s side” of Ryan Field.

Maybe I can’t complain that much because the freshmen were so isolated during the game and didn’t meld in with the student section, nor did they have the opportunity to visit Fitzerland. And I understand that the University and Wildside need to check WildCARDs for security and rent out grills in advance. But I think that some changes could be made to enhance the game-day experience at NU.

If we want Fitzerland to be the ultimate student tailgating destination, then we need to go all-out. If the administration and Wildside want students to stay at Fitzerland and be active fans, they need to provide some sort of incentive to be there.   Instead of having students provide food, the University could bring in outside vendors or even give food away. They could give away Wildside T-shirts, hold raffles and maybe set up entertainment like dunk tanks or flat screen televisions.

The new student section arrangement might be harder to fix. We can’t change the main camera alignment to face the “visitor’s” sideline, and the University cannot move the student section back to its old location during the current season. A temporary solution would be to have any speakers that are being honored and marching bands face the student section. And if the University plans on keeping the student section in the current location, they could alter ticket sales to let NU students and alums buy most of the tickets to make that side of Ryan Field the new “home” sideline.

With a current 1-2 record and some challenging football games coming up, I may not have the best experiences as a student at football games this year. But I hope that in the coming years, NU continues to make changes, ones that optimize the student game-day experience.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].