Fake crowd noise and cardboard cutouts: Players reflect on a basketball season without spectators

This spring was the first semester ever that all fall and spring sports teams played simultaneously. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Burns ’22)

The sporting world, like the rest of the world, underwent a complete halt this time last spring with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While athletics have since slowly returned, there have been many adjustments at both the professional and collegiate levels in order to continue competition safely. Game schedules have been amended, socially-distanced practice “pods” have been made and masks are often worn during play.

But there is still an important aspect missing from the world of athletics: the fans. 

Here at Lafayette, the absence of fans has certainly been an adjustment for the student-athletes. The basketball teams, for example, are used to the energy of playing in front of a packed house at the Kirby Sports Center.

“Playing without fans created a different type of game-day environment,” said Natalie Kucowski, a star senior forward on the women’s team. “There was obviously no cheering and there was less noise in the gym overall. It is up to each team to create their own energy.” 

At the professional level, some games have been infused with technologically-created crowd noise, although this is really for a sense of normalcy for television viewers. 

Although watching sports without the crowds has certainly been different, there have been some positive takeaways. For example, NBA fans were able to watch games from many newly implemented camera angles, and the NFL introduced an interactive broadcast on Nickelodeon as an entertainment program for kids.

Additionally, in most stadiums, fans are able to donate to organizations and charities in order to appear virtually on the sidelines or as a personalized cardboard cutout. This was the case at Lafayette too, as cardboard cutouts were available for purchase in order to be placed in Kirby Sports Center during home games. 

Furthermore, having less noise in the gym has made it much easier for the players to communicate on the floor. This has proved especially helpful on the road, where the opposing crowds are sometimes boisterous. 

Senior co-captain E.J. Stephens, who joined the Lafayette 1,000 career-point club with a 22-point performance against Bucknell this past week, said the lack of crowd noise had a big impact on the team’s ability to talk on the court. 

“It was definitely easier to communicate with everyone on the floor, being that there was no live crowd noise,” Stephens said. “Teammates could hear me better, and vice versa.”

Fans are an integral part of the sports world, and it may be difficult for athletes to keep their energy levels up throughout the season without the excitement generated by enthusiastic fans. However, many athletes are thankful for simply getting the chance to compete, and in many cases not having fans has brought these players closer as a team. 

“I don’t think our energy level was too affected by not having fans at the games,” Stephens said. “We all made sacrifices due to the virus. So, we wanted to be playing those games. I think the energy and teamwork was there every night for us.” 

The athletes also learned how to create energy for one another while continuing to perform to the highest of their abilities. 

“At first, I think that not having fans affected us a bit,” Kucowski said. “We then adjusted quickly and made sure we were all bringing energy, communicating, and supporting each other throughout all of our games.”

With the limitations on spectators being slowly lifted, athletes are looking forward to winning baskets being met with cheers and even jeers at an opposing team’s home court. In addition, the fans are excited about supporting their classmates, family and friends in person once again. 

The fans won’t have to wait much longer. One hundred Lafayette students will be allowed to watch the football season opener against Colgate tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. at Fisher Stadium.

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