The fervor surrounding the Samford men’s basketball program is at an all-time high. The team is currently 3-0 in head coach Bucky McMillan’s third season and has the core and talent to potentially make a March Madness appearance, something that hasn’t happened since 2000.
This excitement is shown in fan attendance, as Samford students are pouring in by the dozens to catch a glimpse of the high-scoring, fast-paced phenomenon that is “Bucky Ball.” Most recently, Samford fans were graced with a 90-38 blowout win over Bellhaven. With this success, students and administrators are starting to call Samford a “basketball school.”
To quote The Robot from the TV series Lost in Space: “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!”
Many schools have gone the “basketball school” route. Let’s look at the most successful ones: UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. These schools have had prolific success in men’s basketball, with 23 total national titles. However, the schools’ football teams have three national championships amongst the four schools, with none of those three claimed by its respective university.
Samford Football is having one of the best seasons in program history, as the team has clinched the SoCon Championship for the first time since 2013 and has an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. However, Samford fans don’t seem to care. Football games are sparsely attended, with few fans attending Samford’s Homecoming game against VMI on Nov. 5. If Samford continues to put more funding and attention into basketball, football will likely lose its footing, and seasons like the 2022 campaign will be a relic of the past.
Furthermore, Samford sports, in general, have experienced great success outside of football and basketball. Under the leadership of Todd Yelton, Samford Women’s Soccer has won four SoCon Tournament championships and has five NCAA Tournament appearances. In addition, head coach Keylor Chan has led Samford Volleyball to four NCAA Tournament appearances. Even our debate team is a national powerhouse.
So, why do Samford fans seem to be only invested in basketball?
The answer to that question is multi-faceted, but there are likely three main reasons why fan attendance spikes at basketball and dwindles everywhere else.
The first reason is the fact that men’s basketball can compete on the national level. If Samford wins their conference tournament, the team will get an automatic bid to March Madness, a nationally revered event where chaos frequently ensues. Samford fans are hopeful that Bucky Ball will punch their ticket and fit Cinderella’s glass slipper, knocking off bigger, badder teams in a quest for a National Championship.
Another reason for the push for basketball is due to what I have dubbed the “SEC Comparison.” This applies almost exclusively to football, as the team is situated in the Deep South, for better or worse. With that, Samford fans usually have an allegiance to an SEC powerhouse, such as Alabama or Georgia. Unlike Samford, football teams in the SEC are almost NFL factories, churning out unprecedented talent and playing some of the best football the world has ever seen. Because of this, Samford fans often leave home games to pop on the 3:30 p.m. SEC game on their dorm TVs. Furthermore, Samford plays at the FCS rather than the FBS level, leaving no chance for the Bulldogs to play in the College Football Playoff. Until Samford makes the jump to the FBS (which is highly unlikely), fan attendance will remain slim.
Finally, the reason that fans are clinging to Bucky Ball over other Samford sports is simply that they find other sports mundane. Volleyball and collegiate soccer don’t usually find their way on primetime SportsCenter, and fans aren’t naïve to this. They go where the cameras are rolling and the lights are the biggest.
Overall, I contend that Samford fans must diversify their attendance at Samford sporting events. Rather than just focusing on men’s basketball, fans should attend as many events as possible to support the Bulldogs. After all, the success of Samford’s other sports should not be overlooked. Let us not forget that under Bucky McMillan, Samford has yet to appear in the NCAA Tournament. Bucky Ball still has more to prove before we can declare Samford a “basketball school.”