Penn State basketball has never been known for it's excessive or rowdy fan base. Coming from one of the largest and traditional football schools in the country, it's not hard to understand why. The Bryce Jordan Center is vast, dark and gloomy. Many home basketball games are on weekday nights, which make it hard for families (especially from out-of-town) to make the trip, and basketball season is in the dead of winter. However, if you've been paying attention this season, you'll notice that this trend is slowly reversing, and Penn State hoops fans are slowly coming out of the woodworks in support of this magical season.
Although they weren't always called "Nittany Nation", there has always been a student section at Penn State basketball games. While I was at Penn State from 2003 through 2007, I attended numerous games where the student "section" on one sideline wasn't more than 50% full. Students would sit quietly most games, wear whatever color t-shirt they could find on their dorm room floor, and leave with 12 minutes remaining in the second half. They may have had good reason to, as I'm not one to judge, however it certainly was frustrating to both dedicated fans and players. This off-season, while Jamelle Cornley was in the gym working on his 10-foot jumper, work was also being done off the court, recruiting new members of Penn State basketball fans who would hopefully stick around for years to come.
We've posted earlier this season about all of the great things Nittany Nation and the athletic department has done to get fans behind this basketball team. Facebook groups were started, signs were posted around campus, viral videos were posted to the internet, even the site GOPSB.com was generated for the sole use as a recruiting tool (players and fans alike).
Believe it or not, this has been only the second year where the student section is visible during televised games. After years of watching the complacent alumni crowd behind the court at games, PSU finally realized this wasn't working. How are people watching on TV supposed to get excited when the people there can't even get into the game? Games are now filmed with the student section (which is full) in full-view and the words "Nittany Nation" are stamped into the corner of the court.
After the groundwork was placed by both students and the AD, it was up to the team to bring in the fans. Battle and company quickly confronted this challenge and have delighted fans to what is, in my opinion, the best and most exciting basketball season Penn State has ever seen. The Lions have posted a 17-2 record at home this year which featured not one, but TWO last-second heroic shots, one of which sent the students into a frenzied rushing of the court.
To increase exposure nationwide, the team has beaten multiple NCAA juggernauts on National Television, including Michigan State, Illinois and now winners of 2 of the last 3 National Championships, Florida. Even coach Ed DeChellis admits he's not sure which is better, an early-exit in the NCAA Tournament, or all of this television exposure and big-game experience the team receives as they trudge through the NIT bracket.
The athletic department even canceled Wednesday's football spring practice media day, after the Lions defeated the Gators on the road to earn their trip to New York. That sums up the rise of the program right there.
Now, with the Lions two wins away from calling themselves NIT Champions, Nittany Nation has a chance to strut their stuff in Madison Square Garden, the greatest arena in the world. And although the game is days away, the Lions should have quite the following when they tip off in New York City Tuesday night. Minutes after Norte Dame beat Kentucky to punch their ticket to New York, a Facebook event entitled "White Out Madison Square Garden" was sent out to every member of Nittany Nation.
Facebook event can be seen here....
It's amazing to see how far not only the students have come, but Penn State fans in general have come to support the basketball program. I'd like to think the support will continue after this magical season is over, but to be honest I'm too excited about Tuesday to think about that now. If you haven't done so already, I highly suggest you get your $10 dollar ticket off of Ticketmaster (which is good for the 7pm game between San Diego State and Baylor as well), get to New York and cheer on your Lions. It's the least we can do for Cornley who has worked so hard to get here. Let's send him out like a champion.