There is nothing quite like standing up with 1,000 of your closest friends and making life a living hell for everyone who steps foot in your house.
This is the mentality of those that make up the student section at men's basketball games. You have most likely seen these Bulls fanatics losing their minds in front of everyone at Alumni Arena. Every time a chant starts, a cheer echoes, or a cowbell rings, it's because of them.
Many believe that the section is reserved for members of Buffalo's sports fan club, True Blue, but the truth is that anyone who wants to lose his or her mind is welcome to join the frenzy. In fact, the face of the Buffalo student section, Mark Pereira, is not even a member of the club.
If you have ever attended a Bulls home game, you have seen Pereira. He may have come up to introduce himself, shouted at you to stand up and cheer, or may have just been screaming in his shiny blue top hat and bright white tie.
"I'm not a member of True Blue; I just really love UB," Pereira said. "There's something about this student section, something about this basketball team, that just has swagger and is screaming for spirit."
The experience in the student section is a lot of fun, but its presence is very serious. The point of a student section is first and foremost to help out the home team.
"What the student section does when it's at its best is show full support for the team," said True Blue President Tim Eaton. "When there's energy in the arena, it amplifies the abilities of the players tenfold. You'll see Mitchell Watt dunking a little harder. The fast breaks are a little faster, and the 3-pointers are a little sweeter."
The effect that the students have had on the games this year is obvious. The men's basketball team is 10-2 at home, as compared to a 5-6 record on the road. Sure, this could be chance, but it is safe to assume that teams that come into the Bulls' house have trouble dealing with the harassment pouring out of the bleachers.
Although the section has been engaged this season, attendance has been lacking recently, and interest has seemingly declined. This was not always the case. In the middle of the last decade, during current Bulls assistant coach Turner Battle's time as a player, student support for the program was at an all-time high. This may not have just been because the team was talented, but also because the program went directly to the student body to drum up support.
"In [Battle's time] the team went door to door and promoted the games to the students," Pereira said, "They averaged 1,500 standing students a game. I want us to get 1,000, and they averaged 1,500 in the boring games in the middle of the week."
As boring as those games may have been, the team's talent level made them entertaining. Many fans that stopped going to the games would blame the team's low level of success as the major factor. That is no longer an excuse, as this year's team is the best we have seen since Battle played.
Despite the team's success, the attendance is still not where many would like it to be. The problem is not only the students that don't come to the arena, but also those who show up and refuse to participate.
"We would love to see the students behind us standing," Eaton said. "You don't want to get upset with them, [because they're] supporting [their] team, but [they're] not nearly making as much of a contribution as [they] could be."
The most important factor in bringing in new fans is the UB community as a whole. People who are already fans of the teams will, of course, attend games, but there needs to be more effort from other groups at the university if the arena is really going to fill up.
In Buffalo's past, and at most colleges, the Greek system is responsible for drumming up the most support for the school's teams. Recently, however, Buffalo's fraternities' and sororities' presences have been lacking or completely nonexistent.
"We need people who are more involved with everything on campus to care," Pereira said. "[There used to be] fraternity and sorority competitions at games. There were no prizes or incentives to compete, but they would come out because they wanted to beat each other."
"Nowadays, I've asked [people I know in the Greek system about it] and the first thing they asked was if there was going to be prizes. They all asked that. We have the worst [Greek] system in the country here. The [Greek] system here is useless. That starts the problem. Fraternities and sororities here are only in it for themselves, whereas at other schools they're definitely in it for the school. That's why they exist, to be a group of the school. These ones are groups just for the sake of being groups."
It is not only a lack of support from within the university that is a problem. When you travel to other big universities, the entire town or city is behind everything that those schools do. For some reason, Buffalo has not embraced the Bulls like it should.
"Community support isn't as high as it could be," Eaton said. "I don't think people don't want to support UB [athletics], but they support [the school] in other ways. Athletics sometimes feels like an afterthought to people in the community when they don't have time or they don't realize that it's a great place to take their kids. I don't want to say that it bothers me, but the support from the community could be stronger."
This may be the best time to get involved with the men's basketball team. A few years ago, the football team did the unthinkable and won a Mid-American Conference championship and played in the school's first ever bowl game. Every fan in attendance was a part of that experience, and, for many; it was the highlight of their Bulls fandom.
This very well may be the season that the basketball team makes similar history. The team has played well in the MAC and looks to be a formidable force in the conference tournament in March. If the team can take home the MAC Championship, it will earn the team's first berth in the Division-I NCAA tournament.
"This is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Tim Habben, a junior mechanical and aerospace engineering major and True Blue member. "Ten years from now, when you're looking back and someone asks you, ‘Hey, were you there when they made the tournament?' you'll have to say, ‘Yeah, but I didn't care and I didn't go to the games.' The experience won't be there and you don't want to miss it."
There is never a bad time to start supporting the team. In fact, this weekend may be the best time all season to begin a Bulls experience. The team hosts UW-Milwaukee on Saturday in one of ESPN's Bracketbuster games.
"If you go to the games [and participate] I guarantee you will have fun," Pereira said. "You are not going to have fun when you sit. If you come and get involved and you don't have fun, you can punch me in the face."
After all, what are friends for?