The energy should spike as full attendance returns
With the announcement that attendance at Bowling Green State University athletic events will return to full capacity for the fall 2021 season following the easing of most COVID-19 health restrictions by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, there is a sense of anticipation surging through the training areas, locker rooms and athletic offices on campus.
While no one is classifying the welcomed change as a complete return to normal, the expectation is that the competitive environments at the Stroh Center, Doyt L. Perry Stadium, the Slater Family Ice Arena and Cochrane Field just might be better than ever.
“This is a massive factor because one of the things that makes our program special is Cochrane Stadium filled with fans and parents,” said Falcon Men's Soccer Head Coach Eric Nichols.
“It was lonely in there for the past year, but when we get it packed the energy is something special and that makes it one of the best places to play in the country. When we play in front of that kind of crowd, every Bowling Green player is two inches taller and a bit faster.”
Nichols, the two-time Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year, said that when his team played in front of mostly empty stands during the coronavirus pandemic, there was no mistaking the void the restrictions created.
“We definitely saw it again this spring since the bump we usually get at home — it just wasn't there,” he said. “Any questions I might have had about the impact of our fans was answered this spring.”
Falcon Volleyball Head Coach Danijela Tomic also emphasized the essential intangible that a full complement of fans provides for Falcon home games.
“We are excited and thankful that the Stroh will be at full capacity this fall,” she said. “Playing in front of our Falcon fans is always something special for our team. We love the energy that our fans create from the stands, but I also believe that our fans feed off the energy that our team creates on the court.”
Tomic was named the 2020-21 Northeast Region Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after she led the Falcons to Mid-American Conference regular-season and MAC tournament championships and a 22-2 record after their season was moved to this spring. She said the bond with the fans grew stronger despite the pandemic.
“We were fortunate that even with the attendance limitations due to COVID, our fans still created a phenomenal atmosphere in the Stroh, which meant a lot to us, and helped us create a true home-court advantage,” said the two-time MAC Coach of the Year. “We were reminded of how special Falcon fans are every time we played on the road with a few or no fans at all.”
Tomic said that since their 2020 season was moved to the spring of 2021, this fall Falcon Volleyball will have the opportunity to win a second MAC championship in the same calendar year, and she expects a full house at the Stroh will be a key factor in the team's success.
“We are thrilled to be back in the Stroh this fall,” she said. “We hope that our Falcon fans will help us create the best possible competitive atmosphere in the Stroh and hopefully witness another Bowling Green Volleyball championship season.”
Falcon Women's Soccer Head Coach Jimmy Walker shares that optimism.
"We are very excited about the upcoming year,” he said. “We have a great group of returning players along with some really nice additions. Our non-conference schedule is going to be extremely challenging, and it should help prepare us for a very competitive MAC schedule.”
Falcon Football Head Coach Scot Loeffler said the 2020 season was as “painful and miserable” as could be and there was a vivid reminder of the pandemic's impact each time his team walked into a stadium with zero fans present. He is thrilled that “the most unique year in college football” is history.
“We can't wait to have a full capacity crowd at The Doyt,” the third-year head coach said. “We've got a great fan base, we've got great students and we've got a great community that loves Bowling Green Football. We need to take advantage of this. We want to make sure that our fans and our students take complete advantage of having the opportunity to watch a football game at the stadium.”
After having gone through the pandemic and its related restrictions, Loeffler expects his team, one of the youngest in the country, to emerge better and stronger when it gets to play before a stadium filled with fans. “We are going to look back and see this as a blessing in disguise,” he said.
On the facilities side, Steve Messenger, associate athletic director for operations, events and championships, said that for the 2020 season, not a single decision concerning home football games was made without addressing the possible ramifications due to the pandemic. There will still be a number of health and safety measures maintained this fall, but he expects game day will be much like it used to be.
“COVID was a full-time job for game operations. I don't know if celebration is the right word to describe it, but there will be a whole lot of what we think of as normal returning to the stadium and everyone is pretty excited about that,” he said.
“If you think about just one aspect of a football game day — tailgating was not allowed last year, but this year it is back at 100 percent. That is cause for celebrating by itself, because that is college football.”
Messenger said he expects fans to still be cautious, at least initially, until they settle back into a comfortable routine for Falcon games at The Doyt.
“As bad as the restrictions were during the pandemic, we learned a lot and found there are things we can do better, so there is a huge reason to be excited about the coming season,” he said. “I can't wait, because there is nothing I would rather do than make the fans' experience the best it possibly can be.”
As BGSU's associate athletic director for arena operations, Jamie Baringer has the responsibility of managing the Stroh Center and Slater Family Ice Arena. She said she is filled with anticipation as overseeing the Stroh and the ice arena packed with fans becomes a reality once again.
“I approach the return to full capacity with pure excitement,” she said. “Having our normal environment back is going to be great since we are used to roaring crowds in the Slater Family Ice Arena and the Stroh Center. We will keep in place some of the things that we learned as we went through COVID, but having full capacity once again will bring back the excitement, and bring back what we do best.”
Baringer said the attendance restrictions in place during the pandemic reminded her once again of the importance of Falcon fans and how the teams feed off of the energy the fans create.
“These athletes who practice and train so hard deserve to have the fans in the stands,” she said.
Nichols said another detrimental aspect of COVID restrictions was the forced cancellation of summer soccer camps, a time when his Falcon players have developed a bond with the area soccer community.
“That is a big mission of our program — to connect with our community — and during the pandemic we weren't able to get kids in here and work with them at our camps,” he said. “We'll see 500-700 kids through the course of our camps, and not having them here created a big void.”
Nichols said the return to full capacity for home games and a busy camp schedule in the coming year will allow the players to start building those relationships again.
“We tell our guys when they come here that they'll have a chance to be a hero, and we want the kids in the community to see these guys play and look to them as great role models,” he said. “Connecting with the fans and these kids has been such a cornerstone of our program, and then to have it pulled out like it was left a real void. We are very excited about getting back to playing in front of that big crowd.”