I happened to be reading one of my more visited websites when I came across an article in the Shorthorn (for those not affiliated with UTA, it is the student newspaper) from a guy I have a great deal of respect for, Jesse DeTienne. He is as great a Maverick supporter as I and goes to far more games than I can. I've been a Maverick longer, but only cause I'm older.
He wrote a guest column questioning the fact that UTA is promoting the women's game at Baylor during homecoming week. Click on the link and read it. Go ahead. I'll wait.
From a cursory glance, I get what he is saying. All the festivities are on campus and do not require extensive travel, usually just getting to the University. But I think he is missing the forest for the trees.
First, and really the most important, this was done to show support for the Mavericks as they play national-power Baylor in Waco during the Women's National Invitational Tournament. This game was scheduled by the NIT folks. They put this together on their own with regards to where the teams are geographically. As long as Baylor and UTA are both in the tournament, they are almost always going to play in Waco.
The timing is also set in stone. The WNIT tipoffs at this time every year. UTA just recently moved homecoming back to the fall in 2012. So this road trip could have happened at any point in the season and isn't a planned homecoming activity. Given that it is a national tournament with increased eyes and prominence, it makes sense that some in the UTA community would get excited about it.
That may be what is most exciting for me. UTA in every sport has never shied away from competing against the top of the NCAA, and beating them in many cases. But the fact that there are people who are organizing trips to see them play these top team is rewarding. Usually, it is the players parents, University officials and a handful of fans. I always knew the value of UTA athletics. The part that had the least value was finding people to share it with. That seems to no longer be the case.
UTA is second in volleyball average attendance in the SBC (just like last year), was second in men's basketball attendance last year, the highest they have ever been in the sport, averaged over 1,000 in women's for the first time every and hit a high in baseball last year. Every sport is trending up. It seems natural that the trend line going up would start to include easy road games.
I also applaud the students who are organizing this for the camaraderie and memories they will be making. Some of my fondest moments came when I saw the Mavericks play on the road. I'll introduce exhibit A, though certainly there were much more.
Women's games aren't always part of homecoming. Last year, while the men hosted Houston Baptist, the women were on the road playing Wichita State. When UTA held homecoming in the spring, it coincided with the conference schedule. Many years, the teams would play on the same day, but one was at home and the other was on the road, regardless of homecoming. The only constant (at least since 1985) is that the men's team plays at home.
It sounds maybe a little callous, but that's the reality. Homecoming is traditionally part of the marquee sport that attracts the most attendance per game. Wait any longer than the Fordham game to host homecoming with the current schedule to accommodate a women's game and UTA starts to creep towards the end of the semester and holidays. Hard to get large amounts of students and alumni engaged then, with so much else on their plate.
Both coaches schedule the non-conference portion of their season independent of the other. The only thing they consult with is timing to make sure they don't schedule the same day at the same time. Contracts have to be fulfilled, other teams have to find compatibility with UTA's and logistics have to be confirmed.
Given those constraints, I'm perfectly happy with how it turned out. The Maverick students turned the situation into a positive. I don't expect a W against a powerful Bears team, but will be rooting hard for the women and am very happy some students have made the decision to travel and do the same. And who knows...they may be able to pull it out. Those students will certainly play a part if that happens.