Jimmer Fredette is mobbed wherever he goes. Jake Heaps carries the weight of BYU’s football program, along with the national attention, on his shoulders.
The entire collection of Utah Valley University athletes? Pretty much nothing.
Such was the scene during UVU’s Week of Welcome, which featured reps from different departments each day in an effort to tell students, “FYI, we’re here for you.”
Friday happened to be the athletic department’s turn, and to their credit, the vast majority of coaching staffs and athletes made their obligatory appearances in the center-campus courtyard. They even appeared to enjoy it, even as other students were too ignorant to enjoy them.
Now the us-versus-BYU card gets worn out in a hurry, but it’s worth noting this has to do with the students, not the school. If any significant Cougar makes a planned-out, drawn-out public appearance, chances are he or she will be noticed, given a shout-out, pestered for an autograph.
Yet there was Wolverines shooting guard Isiah Williams, going unnoticed and un-bugged after one-to-two hours worth of his time. Never mind that he’s a returning All-American Honorable Mention, making him the best returning basketball player in Utah college basketball this year.
Williams’ coach Dick Hunsaker, with a former Sweet 16 appearance and Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year under his belt, was likewise there for the Wolverine world to see. So were reps from women’s soccer, wrestling and volleyball.
For every noteworthy person or achievement, there were 2,000-3,000 students not there.
This begs the question: what gives? Some have insisted UVU is still a “commuter school,” that kids spend too much time just getting here and back to have time or even know about their NCAA-credentialed athletics. Given the consistently and depressingly full status of campus parking lots, I’m dubious about that one.
Others say the Wolverines aren’t worth watching. Not to sound like a Mormon missionary, but how would you know unless you’ve tried it? Between Williams’ All-American status, volleyball’s recent wins over Syracuse and BYU-Hawaii, baseball’s nation-leading offense and wrestling sending three members to last year’s nationals, the “not good enough” label just doesn’t stick.
Marketing can’t be blamed either, as signs all over campus display the next home games on the slate. Students can’t go far without walking by a Wolverine logo or photos of university athletes.
It’s not just this committee of one that doesn’t understand it.
“It still baffles me that we don’t have better attendance from our students, our general student body, than what we have,” Director of Athletics Mike Jacobsen said before the 2011-12 season. “The community is doing a little bit better job coming out than our students are. That’s a phenomenon I haven’t quite figured out yet.”
Behind the mystery may lie an ugly answer Jacobsen may not want to hear, one not acknowledged until someone comes out and says it: it’s possible no one really cares.
BYU is right up the street and Utah lies 45 minutes up the freeway. They’re established, known, the BYU and U of U to the UV-who?. Pathetic as it is, the $15 UVU charges for year-round tickets may not be worth the effort students would spend to get to know the unknown.
There’s also no real need for another player on the local college scene. Conference realignment doesn’t change the Red and Blue Rivalry. Utah State is already the adopted step-child. Weber State and Southern Utah have carved out smaller but established niches.
Unless the Wolverines shock the nation with a March Madness appearance or by financing a football team, they’ll always be lacking athletic attention. That’s understandable from outsiders. No one gave Boise State a second glance until they started winning, and winning big. Earning respect from peers is one thing. But from your student fan base?