With adjustments, College Basketball's pageantry can be revived at Villanova

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

From just outside of the Pavilion's brick-patterned shell, it's bulky exterior - whether it be a Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon - you can hear them.

The aftermath of a big bucket or the shrieks following a hard foul, you can hear them. The buzzer-beaters, the thirty foot prayers from deep, even the opposing coaches yells for unseen violations along the navy baselines and sidelines of Villanova's home arena.

You can hear them, but they've never been loud enough. Until now.

I've loved Big 5 Basketball since before I enrolled at Villanova, and I think the rivalries have some of the greatest traditions in college sports, especially rollouts. -Jacob Echoff

Villanova's student section hasn't been the greatest example of what college basketball represents in several years. There aren't many organized cheers. Many students came into the arena just yelling without any direction. There's no rollouts, cutouts or indications of creativity for miles within a sea of blue.

Until now.

Villanova's athletic department approved a petition on Sunday for a test trial that allows students to bring their creative juices to the Pavilion for Wednesday's matchup with Butler and the women's March 4th game against Marquette. And for the first time all season, the Villanova student section got the chance it's been looking for. An opportunity off the court to show that they might have a top-ten student section to accompany their 24-3 team.

"I'm obviously super excited that signs have been approved on a trial basis," Jacob Echoff, President of the Augustinian Army, Villanova's student spirit group, said on Sunday night.

"I've loved Big 5 Basketball since before I enrolled at Villanova, and I think the rivalries have some of the greatest traditions in college sports, especially rollouts. Getting rollouts in the Pavilion was one of my main goals this year. Assuming all goes well during the Men's game against Butler and the Women's against Marquette, expect some pretty great rollouts for next year."

The rules surrounding the trial process are simple: nothing profane, no personal attacks and nothing mocking another university or the Big East conference. Again, simple. But what wasn't as simple was generating enough agreement around campus to make students concerned about their section.

Between half a dozen snow days and meetings with the university's student government association and spirit groups, the athletic department finally folded. The rollouts are back. The celebrated fatheads of Jay Wright or Ryan Arcidiacono can come back. The sometimes-stale university outside of Philadelphia can take two days to get back to what brought students to Philly's suburbs: the basics, the basketball.

"Students were generating this throughout the year and we worked with the SGA to convene our thoughts about the process moving forward," Bob Steitz, Villanova's Senior Associate Athletic Director, said Monday afternoon.

"It can add to the game atmosphere if done correctly and in good taste. We are just going to try it this year, take a look at it and how it goes, and there is nothing promised for next year. If it works well we will continue with it."

Changing tradition, one sign at a time

After the news was announced, and word had traveled the halls of Villanova University, a new ebullience appeared among the Nova faithful.

There was a unique sense of pride for the students. Even if they only had one chance to celebrate each team, they would do so to the best of their ability, no matter how much time it took, not caring about how much homework was blown off in the process.

During Monday night, students began planning. Each sign had to be screened by student government by a certain time the day prior to the game and stamped for approval. There were many things to be done. Surrounded by familiar faces and a late night fruit smoothie, Emma Taylor sat at a mahogany table attempting to visualize her masterpiece.

"I was freakishly ambitious," said Taylor, a sophomore cheerleader at Villanova. " When we started talking about [the petition], I said ‘I was going to make this happen. No matter what.'"

And what did her late night imagination create?

"We found a picture of Miley Cyrus throwing up her V's on google. We put a Villanova tattoo on her and we figured she'd be a pretty big [part of Nova Nation] and it'd be cool to have her in the crowd"

Something is better than nothing and the students are embracing it what they've been given, if only for a few days.

Sophomore Morgan Scully said it was "going to amp people up" and that she and her friends are "really stoked about the game." Raquel Doke said that adding this level of creativity to the student section can help "get some wins for Villanova" and that "it will truly affect the outcome of a game."

When it comes to the Pavilion, Villanova and it's student section aren't exactly in the front of the minds of opposing student-athletes when it comes to intimidating atmospheres. It's not Syracuse's historic Carrier Dome or Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Villanova doesn't have something similar to the Phog in Kansas. And within Philadelphia, it fails in comparison to UPenn's Palestra.

But what Villanova does have is new life. Another chance to revitalize a once stagnant fan base with the biggest initiator of change that any near-twenty year old can bring to any arena in America: presence. One small change can ignite a campus. It may just take one sign at a time.

"The way that it captures people's creativity gives fans another reason to be excited about the game," said Ben Hoffman, a sophomore at Villanova.

"It pumps you up to keep going to games so that the majority of the student section isn't just exclusively underclassmen. As long as you keep coming up with new creative things, you get more people going to games in addition to the team getting better."

The Pageantry isn't just for Division I athletics

120 miles away from Villanova University is snowy Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a brisk no-man's land devoid of elite athletics.

But what Northeastern Pennsylvania did have was something Villanova was lacking until Sunday: the approval of rollouts at collegiate basketball games. Saturday marked another brawl between King's College and Wilkes University, both homes of strong athletics in Pennsylvania's Freedom Conference, a subset for basketball in the Middle Athletic Conference.

The women's game went into overtime, four seconds from a second period. The men's game was a blowout, King's dominated Wilkes away from home and took the season sweep in a hated rivalry that separates a small college-town for a weekend. Yet, no matter how small, the basketball was taken just as seriously. The student section was one of the best anyone could ask for.

Though some students didn't have the proper materials to make fully decorated signs, they did what they could. Wilkes students used anything they could get their hands on: cardboard, magic markers, and the same element key to a successful day against Butler come Wednesday: creativity.

"I love it, I think it's awesome," Head Coach Jay Wright said on a local radio show Monday night. "I'm sure everyone's concerned that there could be something disrespectful, but I trust our students, they're smart. I think they'll be good. They're creative, they're funny."

And it's that same principle that makes Villanova students more excited for their first opportunity to form their best student section of the year. It's the ability to feel like the Pavilion has the potential to be even more intimidating, to be one step more intense come game-day.

"It makes us look cooler on TV," said Willy Annan, a junior business major and member of the Augustinian Army. "It It adds to the game day atmosphere and it gives students something else to be excited about. Having 2,000 students doing that in the student section just makes us more intimidating. I can see a big difference to where the student section was my freshman year to where it is now."

The new, improved Nova Nation

As students spend their final hours between classes painting, drawing and finalizing the finishing touches on the newsiest extensions of their creativity, they've jumped an additional hurdle while getting their petition signed.

They've gained the trust of the athletic department. The mistakes of students that plagued the Pavilion in Villanova's past are trying to be forgotten. New pages in the storied program's history are being written. That is, with the caveat that those same students that ruined other student's chances for elite intimidation year's ago, cannot resurface.

"Several years ago a couple of derogatory signs appeared in the student section," Steitz said. "They were defamatory to our university and we decided it was best not to have signs at our venues."

But now, the assumption is that the same behavior won't return. But with the trial period comes certain problems to the current student body.

With only three days to prepare, the student section against Pavilion on senior night might not be flooded with rollouts and cutouts. The fear is that the same mentalities will return to the Pavilion: the stale, majorly scream-filled fan base will come back, lacking the vision to intimidate a Big East roster.

"Obviously not every student will show up with a sign," Doke said. "But as long as there are a good number of people who will make a sign and make it to a game, it will still look like people are spirited and into the game. [The petition] has generated a pretty good buzz around campus and it seems like a lot of people are looking forward to the game on Wednesday."

Even if the students didn't show up with signs I don't think it would stop the campaign -Willy Annan

And spirit is the only deterrent of fear for what will be a test-drive of the new, improved Nova Nation. The new formation of what could be the continued, concrete section at each home game that will make opposing shooters second guess themselves at the charity stripe. Another example that will make alumni gush. A newer reason to bring in fresh-faced recruits.

Two days will set the wheels in motion for a clearer vision for the fans that support Villanova basketball. How they're handled, are ultimately up to the students.

"Students going against what they said or anything profane would be bad. They give you an inch, don't take a mile," Annan said. "Even if the students didn't show up with signs I don't think it would stop the campaign. It's going to be a great atmosphere, students are clamoring for tickets."

"If I were to make a sign," Annan continued. "It would say ‘thank God this is finally legal.'"

Villanova students fought for another chance to intimidate the opposition, to give a university another tradition, to change the way things are done. One petition and few believers gave a fan base a second chance at redemption. And an opportunity to bolster one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in the past decade for the Wildcats.

The location isn't import and and it doesn't matter where it happens, the pageantry and camaraderie behind college basketball is irreplaceable and can't be replicated. It brings hope to the freshman for a better social life outside of classes, it reminds the second semester seniors that they shouldn't graduate before attending one final game. It brings back the feeling of tradition, one of the most important in an undergraduate experience.

It starts with the roar from the crowd, the audible chants from the fans up and down Lancaster avenue. You can hear them. It's ferocious dunks, the emphatic blocks, the impossible made jumpers down two at home. You can hear them. It's the final shots, the holding of the ball with the victory in reach. You can hear them.

And if you can't, on Wednesday night, you will hear them. The rumble, the jurassic growl of an improved Nova Nation.

VU Hoops reporter Ryan Saccoman contributed to this article

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