For VCU basketball fans in recent years, the thrill of hearing VCU’s name called on Selection Sunday has been hindered by the location of the games.
This year, the Rams were scheduled to play Ohio State University in the round of 64 in Portland, Oregon. It was the third time in four years that the team was sent out to the West Coast. They were also sent to Portland in 2012. In 2013 they were sent to Detroit, Michigan before being sent out to San Diego, California last season.
This is frustrating for a fan base that travels well when the location of neutral site games are relatively close. The crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was an estimated 70 percent VCU fans during the Atlantic 10 tournament, which essentially turned the arena into Siegel Center North. However, it is much different for fans to drive six hours and make plans months ahead of time than to be forced to book a last minute flight cross-country, scrambling to find hotels and tickets.
Connor Bailey, a senior finance major, is a die-hard Rams fan who has not missed a game since high school. Bailey has attended 86 straight home games dating back to his junior year at James River High School in Midlothian, Virginia.
Bailey also isn’t opposed to traveling to see the Rams on the road in the NCAA tournament, as he has seen them play in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2009, Chicago, Illinois in 2011 and Portland in 2012. The trip to Oregon in 2012 only occured because his father’s co-worker had free flights to share.
Bailey was not as lucky the past three years, as he was unable to attend any of VCU’s NCAA Tournament games.
“It’s something that definitely irritates me,” Bailey said. “When you’re a top-seven seed you should be rewarded.”
Susan Thornton, vice president of the Rowdy Rams fan club, had a more positive outlook on the situation.
“As much as I wanted to (see) the team to play close to home, I was happy for the West Coast Ram fans that don’t get to see the team play as often as we do while living in Richmond,” Thornton said. “From what I heard, Portland welcomed VCU a couple years ago and they were excited to have us back.”
Even if the location of postseason games was closer to RVA, it wouldn’t be guaranteed that there would be student transportation.
Due to the financial circumstances of the Student Government Association, in all likelihood there wouldn’t have been student transportation this year. VCU Athletics would offer discounted tickets hoping that fans would carpool, according to Rowdy Ram advisor Kevin ‘Swiss’ Woods.
Thornton, a senior, furthered her disposition on the access of student buses designated to send students to the games.
“Student bus trips to NCAA games are very dependent on game location. The university has funded an NCAA student bus in the past,” Thornton said. “I believe it is considered each year, but it depends on the game time, location and interest. It basically has to be perfect circumstances and that’s understandable.”
In the past, the SGA sponsored the trips to the Sweet 16 and Final Four in 2011, and also funded the student bus to Brooklyn in 2013. Donors funded the 2014 bus to Brooklyn. VCU Athletics and Rowdy Rams fundraisers funded the Brooklyn bus for 2015.
Bailey described attending the NCAA tournament as very unique.
“There’s something different about the NCAA tournament. Conference tournaments feel great, but when you walk into a straight NBA arena, you’re thinking of all the great basketball players that have played there. There’s just a different feel about NCAA tournament games,” Bailey said.
There is hope for the 2016 season that more Rams fans will get to share the experience of watching VCU play in an NCAA tournament game. Two second and third round sites for next year’s tournament are located relatively close to Richmond in Raleigh, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. However, with the Rams’ recent luck, they most likely will get sent to Spokane, Washington.