In every relationship, as in this one, writer to reader, honesty is important. It is in that spirit I write this article.
It has to be a difficult pill to swallow, being the red-headed stepchild of Clemson Athletics, that’s Clemson Basketball. Imperfectly juxtaposed, Memorial Stadium overshadows Littlejohn Coliseum, both literally and figuratively. So it is with Clemson Football casting it’s large behemoth of a shadow over that of Clemson Basketball. It’s life in Clemson, South Carolina, everyone knows it and over time, just accepts it.
Most Saturdays in the fall, there are 80,000 fans stuffed in every nook and cranny of Death Valley. Clemson is known throughout the college football world as having one of the most passionate, supportive and devoted fanbases. It’s a point of pride to hear others say there is something special about Clemson.
Yet, right across the street, on a winter weeknight or a weekend afternoon there stands the beautiful, shining venue, Littlejohn Coliseum, the home of the Clemson Basketball Tigers, with more empty seats than fans. One has to wonder why? I suspect there are many reasons.
One of the biggest reasons, the quality of the product. Most years, Clemson Football competes at the highest levels of the sport. Proof, the football program has two recent national championship banners displayed in the stadium. It’s understood, the greatness of Clemson Football. It’s a way of life there in those hills. Tailgating, the marching band, rubbing Howard’s Rock, running down the hill, it’s almost theatrical. It makes for a spectacular, almost perfect backdrop in which to play and win.
How does Clemson Basketball compete with that? Truth is, it can’t. Most seasons, as the basketball team struggles, it’s seen as merely a Segway. A momentary diversion until football spring practice begins and the opening pitch of Tiger Baseball is thrown in Doug Kingsmore Stadium. It’s sad but true. It’s not that fans don’t care, it’s a matter of priorities and football will always take priority over everything, especially basketball.
It’s hard to say this but honestly, Clemson Basketball is mediocre. In most seasons, they struggle to compete in the basketball centric ACC. This isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s always been that way and it most probably always will. There are passionate basketball fans but there is also a large minority that are motivated by little more than a sense of guilt for not supporting the Basketball Tigers. That’s not enough, there needs to be different motivations. One would be a consistency in the outcome of that product. Most years, the Tigers take their assigned seats in the middle, to back of the conference bus. It’s a tradition, it’s perceived and accepted as their fate.
When a family leaves their home to attend Memorial Stadium for a football game they do so with the unshakable belief that their Clemson Tigers can and probably will win. Unfortunately, that same family does not enter Littlejohn Coliseum with that same expectation. Every loss is expected, every victory, a welcomed surprise. That’s not good but it’s just the way it is. There aren’t good fans or bad fans, there are interested fans. Provide a product that is worthy of interest and the problems surrounding Clemson Basketball will begin to be remedied. Always remember, the fun is in the winning
I have no desire for anyone to be fired, I have no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings, nor start to start a long drawn out argument. I just want to understand what it will it take for the majority of the Clemson Family to passionately support Clemson Basketball. More time? More resources? No, it’s even simpler than that, they must win, and do so consistently. That’s blunt, it might sound contrite, and even seem hurtful but honestly, you know it’s true. Sometimes, the truth hurts.
I hate it for this team, they’re committed, they give this University everything they have. I admire and hurt for every single one. But true competitors despise pity, but yet I feel it. They are no less of a Clemson Tiger than Trevor Lawrence and Hunter Renfrow but the road they travel is different, literally.
For any team in the ACC to succeed, they all must travel one specific road, the Tobacco Road. That pothole strewn, one lane dirt road that runs through Durham, Chapel Hill, Winston Salem and Raleigh.
Over the years, this has been a painful, yearly gauntlet for the Tigers. Conquer those giants in those places and then, change will begin and success is born. Others have done it and who knows, one day the Tigers might do it as well. It’s the eternal hope of fans everywhere. I imagine, it will be the best day ever for Clemson Basketball and if any program deserves a greatest day ever, this one does.
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