COLUMN: South Lawn a sea of red; stadium a sea of bleachers

A crowd of tailgaters gathers on South Lawn under the Guthrie Bell Tower before WKU’s Homecoming game against North Texas on Saturday.

Jonathan Lintner

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, Sigma Chi President Eric Smiley was on the WKU South Lawn directing his brothers in how to tear down the fraternity’s rental tent for tailgating.

At the Sigma Nu tent, a 30×30 rental that President Garic Salmonowicz said cost $700 to rent for the day, the party looked to be wrapping up.

Time to go to the game … right?


At about 4 p.m. in Houchens-Smith Stadium, the Toppers, fresh off snapping a 26-game losing streak, were trailing North Texas by two possessions late in the second half.

The game kicked off at 2 p.m. — two hours earlier than last season — and did affect attendance. WKU played in front of 16,474 fans at last season’s Homecoming tilt. It was a game against perennial Sun Belt Conference power Troy, and the Toppers had little hope to win.

Saturday’s game against North Texas featured an announced attendance of 14,373. That’s the lowest in three home games this season.

“I’m not exactly sure why it happened, but you learn from your mistakes I guess,” Smiley said of the game time.

The Greeks paid big to party in their tents. It’s understandable why they wouldn’t make a 2 p.m. kick, so attendence issues on Saturday were a two-way street. Then again, the Greeks weren’t the only ones missing.

Though timing is one thing. A lack of support from the student body is another, because those partying in $700 tents weren’t the only ones leaving aluminum showing in most every reach of Houchens-Smith Stadium.

A letdown in the stands came a week after WKU’s blowout win at Louisiana-Lafayette. After hundreds showed up to the airport in Bowling Green to welcome the Toppers back to town. After the hope that was missing through most of last season finally seemed restored under Head Coach Willie Taggart.

The only hope from those in the stadium was that despite a Houchens-Smith Stadium that never really got going, the Toppers would.

Well, that didn’t happen.

It’s understandable knowing Bowling Green and WKU students won’t hop aboard a loser’s bandwagon. However the Toppers, at least for a week, were on-top-of-the-world winners.

It’s something that will at least make you think about how fickle the fanbase for this football team is right now. Salmonowicz said it will take sustained winning for WKU’s football tradition to restore itself.

“I think that the student body is so used to not going to the games that it’s just going to take time to get back into that routine,” he said.

Losing another game won’t help bring the students back. But this is a team that feeds off energy — let the airport scene evidence that — and the Toppers probably expected more than the silent auction they played football around on Saturday.

As he has all season, Taggart didn’t try to be controversial. He understood that tailgating is a part of Homecoming and instead apologized to the fans that did make it to Houchens-Smith Stadium.

And perhaps Taggart sent a message to those fans who didn’t make it in on Saturday.

“I’m always happy with the (fans) that are in there,” Taggart said. “Those are the ones that care about this football team and want us to be successful. I just want our team to play for them and for each other and have the fans leave happy. That’s how it should be here.”

For what it’s worth, Taggart sent the right message. It just came at the wrong time — about two hours too early for football to matter on Homecoming weekend.