Makowsky: Football and Thanksgiving break

May 24, 2011, 12:13 a.m.

In the midst of special dinner preparations on Friday, I sent a short survey to a few email lists. The goal? To get a broad look at students’ views on the football games bookending the Thanksgiving recess.

Stanford, unlike most schools, offers a full week of vacation during that time. Due to the quarter system’s late start time, there is no fall break in October; instead, it’s combined with Thanksgiving, allowing students a full nine days of uninterrupted freedom. This means that, in most cases, there is ample time for travel home or elsewhere before the crush of finals period begins.

It’s a nice and deserved vacation, but it has an unintended consequence: fans leave campus during the tail end—and generally, the wildly important portion—of Stanford football’s season. Big Game is almost always held during either Thanksgiving weekend or the one before it, and the other contest usually holds significance, too, be it a crucial Pac-10 matchup to help determine the final standings and bowl placement or a meeting with rival Notre Dame.

Most other schools would only be at risk of losing students for one game—on the Saturday following Thanksgiving—since they’d still be in session during the prior weekend. But the Cardinal could be missing a chunk of the Red Zone for two games at a time when the team may need its most boisterous supporters more than ever.

So I sent out a survey. A crude, unscientific survey that would never be admissible for any purposes other than to see the thoughts of a handful of students. It was anonymous, meaning that in theory, someone could have submitted the form a dozen different times. And it should in no way be seen as representative of the body as a whole. It was merely sent out of curiosity. Don’t take it as anything more. Here’s what I found.

I asked the group if they had attended last year’s Big Game and Oregon State contest, and if they planned to attend this year’s Big Game and Notre Dame matchup. For both 2010 and 2011, I questioned whether or not they made their travel plans around these games.

A total of 89 people replied, with comments ranging from “I was part of AxeComm, so the Big Game was a big deal” to “I care so, so much more about seeing my family and enjoying my break than Stanford football.” Overall, 56 percent of responders said they made it to Berkeley last season, while only 36 percent said they had gone to see the Cardinal take down the Beavers. The numbers matched up roughly to the respondents’ future plans: 65 percent said they’d be at Big Game in 2011 (which has the added benefit of being at home), with 22 percent unsure. Just 27 percent said they would definitively be at the Notre Dame contest, with 35 percent still not sure of their plans.

The results make sense: not only is Cal the major rival, but in both 2010 and 2011, the game was/will be held on the first weekend of break. Classes conclude just a day before, and staying in the area for a single extra day to see the two schools battle for the Axe makes sense when you still have eight days in which you can be at home. By contrast, both the Oregon State and Notre Dame games are held only two days after Thanksgiving, which is still seen as part of the holiday. Friends from other schools are off then, too, and while the Irish are a rival and the Beavers are a conference foe, the normative aspect of the game is not nearly as high as the annual Stanford-Cal tussle—it’s understandable that the inclination to get back to the Farm may not be too strong.

It’s also hard to predict the future. For example, the Oregon State game this year held massive ramifications for Stanford—win, and be practically guaranteed a BCS bowl; lose, and play somewhere that few non-diehards would care about. But plane tickets are booked well in advance—and for good reason—so even an interested fan that would have gone to the game if he or she was on campus may have been hand-tied by prior travel purchases. I asked the surveyed participants if they made/would make their Thanksgiving travel plans around the two games; for both 2010 and 2011, “yes” got about 45 percent of the vote.

Surely, the Athletics Department would like to see attendance increase for these two games. I live on the East Coast and still make my travel arrangements around these Thanksgiving contests—it’s not a difficult thing to do. Which is not to say that you absolutely have to do this: if you’re like the above commenter and want to spend as much time with your family as possible, I certainly don’t blame you and I doubt many others would.

But if you’re a fan with flexible plans and you don’t mind leaving a day late and coming back to the Farm a day early? Watch the Cardinal in person. The team is going to be pretty good this year. Might as well join in the fun.

Wyndam Makowsky wants you to watch Stanford football in person next year because he can’t. Let him live vicariously through you at makowsky “at”


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