Student athletes sacrifice a lot. They spend countless hours training and traveling for games. However, the players aren’t the only ones that make sacrifices — the fans do, too.
At least, the BYU ROC (BYU’s student section which stands for Roar of Cougars) is all in. Starting at midnight on Sunday night, BYU basketball fans pitched their tents and settled in for the cold nights to secure their spot in the sold-out game.
Sleeping on a cement slab when temperatures are dropping as low as 10 degrees at nights might not sound appealing, but to BYU fans the sacrifice is worth it to bring the energy to the Marriott Center for the biggest home game of the season.
“I’d say this is the definition of a Cinderella story.” — Nathan Jenkins, BYU ROC camper
“I’d say this is the definition of a Cinderella story,” said BYU freshman Nathan Jenkins. “Gonzaga isn’t even looking at BYU like we’re a challenge, so that would be our main advantage just surprising them at home (A) with a stellar team that’s having a great season, but (B) with a huge student section that’s going to be unlike anything they’ve ever seen.”
Jenkins is part of the group that secured the first tent spot in the BYU ROC line. BYU freshmen Jenkins, Mark Hanson, Adam Malmberg and Elliott Evans were not going to get lost in the crowd Thursday night. To guarantee their front row spot, the group arrived outside of the Marriott Center an hour before they were allowed to camp out Sunday night. When midnight hit, they stepped up to the Marriott Center and secured the No. 1 tent spot.
The BYU ROC Board distributes cards that allow five people a spot in line. Each of those cards needs at least one representative in line at all times. And there are random line checks to make sure students follow the rules.
“We had a few close calls where we get word that they are going to come around and check and we only have two people in the tent, so 15 people will be sprinting around campus trying to get here,” Hanson said.
The group has camped out for one other basketball game and multiple football games this school year. They even earned front row seats at BYU’s homecoming game.
Tent No. 1 was willing to do their part for a hopeful victory against the No. 1 ranked team in the country as part of the loud Marriott Center crowd.
“I think the atmosphere inside the Marriott Center is unlike anything else,” Evans said.
The Marriott Center has a 19,000 capacity. Thursday’s game against Gonzaga has been sold out for days. During the 2016–17 season, the largest crowd the Bulldogs have played in front of was 13,784 in Nashville. The Kennel, Gonzaga gym, has 6,000 seats.
BYU’s basketball team recognizes their fans commitment. The team even made an appearance on Wednesday night in tent row.
“It means a lot,” said BYU sophomore Eric Mika. “Anyone who looks at our record or watches us play knows we play better at home and that’s because we feel comfortable here. We shoot better here. We run better here. We’re just used to playing here. And then the crowd has our back. They just give us that extra boost when you’re exchanging punches in a game, you can take one and just run with it a little bit better when you have that crowd behind you, so it’s encouraging and it’s exciting to have all those fans that are all ready to go because it’s going to be a good time.”
“It means a lot. Anyone who looks at our record or watches us play knows we play better at home and that’s because we feel comfortable here. We shoot better here. We run better here. We’re just used to playing here. And then the crowd has our back.” — Eric Mika, BYU center
BYU coach Dave Rose pointed out in the pre-game press conference that having the No. 1 team play in the Marriott Center is a unique opportunity.
“People want to be able to see something that’s not normal,” Rose said. “This is not normal. We’ve played basketball here in the Marriott Center for 40, almost 50 years and we haven’t had the No. 1 team in the country come in here yet, so it’s a unique opportunity. Hopefully our guys take advantage of it and play well. It’s going to be a battle. It will be tough.”
BYU plays Gonzaga on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 9 p.m. at the Marriott Center. The game will be televised live on ESPN2. Read more about how the Cougars have prepared for the matchup against the Bulldogs here.