Patrick Bigsby is a student, employee, and wrestling fan at the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.
Last week, fans of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes filled $700 seats to watch the football team play its first Rose Bowl in 25 years, stormed the court after the men’s basketball team overwhelmed a top-ranked rival, and, in my case at least, endured 20-some hours in a dilapidated, McCarthy-era fieldhouse to witness the wrestling team steamroll its competition. In other words, sports are big business at Iowa and they have a palpable influence both on and off the black-and-gold-doused campus. Iowa isn’t unique in this regard; many of the R-1 institutions that attract top graduate students with prestigious fellowship positions and renowned research opportunities are also D-1 institutions that attract top athletes with champion coaches and major television contracts. A quick look at the GradHacker roster confirms that connection: last month GradHacker readers heard from a Bruin, a Rebel, a Buffalo, a Blue Devil, a Minuteman, a Cyclone, a Golden Bear, and two Cavaliers. Given the overlap between large graduate schools and large athletic departments, I’m frequently disappointed by the lack of graduate students I see at Iowa sporting events and the blank looks I get from nearly all of my Hawkeye colleagues and friends at other schools when I ask if they’re going to the game this weekend. I implore all graduate students – even non-sports fans - to check out their home teams for both fun and professional gain.
In the eternal struggle for work-life balance, graduate students are frequently limited by both time and budget. Attending a game on campus is the perfect solution for a student looking for a fun, cheap night out and, with apologies to sports studies scholars, a great chance to spend a few hours not thinking about your research area. Athletic events typically take place outside of the typical school day (i.e. nights and weekends) and, while that window is precious to time-strapped grad students, most schools make casual fandom as convenient as possible by hosting their home events on or near campus. Additionally, student tickets, particularly for sports other than football or men’s basketball, are nearly always either free or very inexpensive. The convenience and affordability of attending a game make it perfect for combating social isolation in grad school - invite your cohort out to cheer together or patch things up with that special someone you’ve been ignoring.
Additionally, going to athletic events on campus is a great opportunity to see excellence in action or learn something new. I knew nothing about volleyball prior to seeing the then-top-two men’s teams face off while a student at USC, but it was a rare and thrilling opportunity to see an incredible contest and a great introduction to the sport. Maybe you’re at a university that just happens to boast the top swimmer in the country and it would be a shame not to see her in action. Maybe you were a high school soccer player than can appreciate the spectacle of two high-powered teams in a showdown. Maybe you’ve always wondered how lacrosse is played. Whatever the reason and whatever your level of familiarity, you won’t regret taking in the game.
Beyond simple enjoyment, you’ll also benefit in the classroom and beyond. If you’re an instructor (especially if you teach a high-enrollment, general-education course), chances are you’ll have student-athletes in your class. Far from the inaccurate ‘dumb jock’ stereotype, student-athletes typically excel in the classroom, showing the foresight and work ethic necessary to manage a full academic schedule with the demands of games, travel, practice, training table, etc. Going to see an event where one of your students is competing will give you another level of interest and attachment to the game. Your student-athlete will appreciate the support and all of your undergrad students will find you more relatable if they know you’re also interested, even casually, in how the team is faring.
Finally, remember that your school’s teams are its primary ambassadors, if for no other reason than sheer media exposure. Like it or not, a lot more folks will be familiar with the Bruins’ basketball season than UCLA’s (esteemed!) information science program (sorry, Natascha!) This goes for your relatives around the dinner table, your friends outside of academia, and probably most people – even potential employers – outside your immediate scholarly world. Being able to chip in some small talk celebrating a big win, lamenting a heartbreaking loss, or giving your opinion on needed changes to the starting lineup can be the perfect social segue into discussing your work at that very same school. At a job interview, this can be a subtle way of showing off your personality and life outside of school. Or, at a conference, this can be a great, low-pressure way to introduce yourself to a potential collaborator. Sports fandom is a passion and, even if it’s not your passion, the ability to relate to others’ passion will always strengthen your professional and personal network.
So, grad students, what are you waiting for? Get in the game!
Are you a grad student superfan? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!
[Image by Flickr User Illinois Springfield and used under Creative Commons license.]