Like all the other Dads, I was milling around the bleachers, watching my son warm-up before the baseball game, when one of the moms asked me if I worked for Arkansas State.
"Uh, no. Why?"
"You're wearing an Arkansas State shirt."
I furrowed my brow. "I'm a fan," I explained.
The concept seemed to puzzle her, as if I had just spoken Chinese or took a sip from a lobster aquarium. "Well, that's nice," she managed. She staggered away like a woman who opened the closet door and was bonked on the head with a bowling ball.
The struggle is real, y'all.
I am a Group of Five Groupie. I forever wander the local Walmart in a fruitless search for clothing bearing my favorite team's logo. ESPN3 is my official game day channel. I utter crazy queries like, "Did anybody catch that wild East Carolina game?" and "Wanna tailgate in Jonesboro this weekend?" I attend bowl games whose sponsors make ESPN pundits snicker.
As fans of economically challenged programs, we're often criticized for failing to meet outlandish standards set by Privileged Programs. If we don't sell out our stadiums on Tuesday nights, we're failures. If we can't pay an assistant coach a million dollars, we're failures. If our weight room isn't nicer than Club Med, we're failures. Not surprisingly, many G5 students take the easy route and cheer for P5 programs.
"It's annoying as hell. Half (probably more) of Ohio students are OSU fans, and if they'd take the kid blinders off and pay attention they'd realize OU has some killer ass history.
Ohio had one of the first 10 players EVER taken in the NFL Draft, not OSU. Ohio had Mike Schmidt, not OSU. Ohio had Walter Locket, the top basketball recruit in the nation when he signed with Ohio.
The Cats have been great, and could be again, but in the age of the Internet and widespread broadcast deals, the Bobcats can't do it if half the student body would rather sit in their dorm and cheer on a school they didn't even want to go to.
It's a frustrating life as an Ohio fan who grew up in the Buckeyes' city. But it makes my experience richer when we do what we did two years ago and go into The Schot with an almost entirely new basketball roster and take their ranked squad to the wire.
The scare is so bad they won't schedule us for another 20 years ,and they'll convince themselves it's because we're not good enough, but the facts are it's because with 1/5 the resources we can be just as good on any given day. They pretend there's this huge gap, but with a little bit more support Ohio could close that gap and give them a run for their money every year, if only OSU weren't too scared to play." - Bryan Vance
It ain't easy man, being a G5 in a P5 world. When the "Power" Five conferences bullied the NCAA for autonomy, the G5 just stepped aside and accepted it. Fans aren't willing to do that. We resent being called "Little Brother" and being told to "Know your role." It's infuriating to see billionaires donate huge sums to programs who already want for nothing. We bristle when smug pundits and P5 fans call us "cupcakes." It's maddening that a solid program like UAB can be dismantled on the whim of some spoiled legacy with an ax to grind. It's hard, brother, but some do find it easier than others.
"Georgia Southern is actually pretty lucky when it comes to P5 intrusion on our turf. If you live in Statesboro/Savannah and want to go to a P5 game it's gonna take at least 3.5 hours to get there. I see plenty of Southern shirts and car tags around town and I like that fact that when you see one you can bet that person either went to the school or knows someone who does.
There's also a lot of respect for the Southern program and people always stop me to ask about the team when I'm sporting the swag. Bottom line, in the State of Georgia there two kinds of fans — UGA Fans and Not UGA Fans. Tech may as well be another G5 program based on the size of their fanbase so they understand the struggle." – Haisten Willis
That's cool. Some states have created a better culture of sportsmanship between in-state schools that others. But many of us are still begging the bartender to put on your game. ESPN is wondering why our favorite team even bothers suiting up. Many of us can't even find love with the local media outlets.
"The thing that really pisses me off about being a fan of a G5 team in a P5 market is definitely the condescending attitude of the local media. Thankfully UTSA has a great beat writer that goes out of his way to provide coverage that probably exceeds his editor's expectations but the local media at large definitely treats UTSA like the last single woman in a bar at 2 am.
It can be very frustrating to travel to some of the smaller towns in our conference and see a fellow conference members receive front page treatment while multi-million news organizations in San Antonio can barely be bothered to provide a game recap after a huge win." – Jared Kalmus
Man, I hear ya. News outlets are like everyone else, though, printing what's profitable. Maybe that's why Group of Five conferences can't even rate a half-researched preseason preview. Still, why can't XM Sports Radio host a hour long G5 football show? For God's sake, they air a show about lacrosse! Are you telling me more people are interested in lacrosse than they are in the AAC or Conference USA?
It's difficult to break the establishment. Power Five programs preach tradition and pride as if they are the only institutions who have tradition and pride. And most media outlets are happy to promote the readymade storyline. Why dig deeper?
Sad thing is, we're to blame, too. Too many of us are told we're second tier, and we accept it. We're often bad ambassadors for our alma maters. We graduate and blend in with our P5 coworkers and neighbors. Personally, I know several graduates from Arkansas State who claim UofA without even blinking. We have to stand up for our universities. Attend games. Wear merchandise. Donate. Join an alumni group. (Read this website.) Rep the colors. Build community.
I coined an adage that, admittedly, hasn't caught on. Doesn't meant it's not true. If the degree hangs on your wall, the flag flies from your car. The value of your degree is related to the pride you pour into it. But resisting decades of propaganda and mass conditioning is difficult.
"I know the culture has changed much over the last decade or so, but even as UNT ramped up their FBS efforts, I watched North Texas as a commuter school, the dorms emptying out on the weekends as the kids drove home to Dallas to do laundry at mom & dads.
There was a moderate amount of school pride, mostly among faculty, but there was still a cannon at home games and dudes in white shirts doing push-ups in the end zone after touchdowns. But even walking to class, I'd see more UT hats, more A&M sweatshirts, more Texas Tech t-shirts, and barely any UNT swag at all, so College Couture pretty much matched what I'd seen in high school.
As a fan of a smaller team, no one can accuse you of being a bandwagoner, but it is like being the awkward middle child where you can't win a national championship at the FBS level, nor can you win a national championship at the FCS level. From strictly a place of respect, it's incredibly frustrating as a 4-8 A&M team will still look down on you, but from a place of fandom, there's no fakers.
Was I frustrated that our old stadium was a dive? Absolutely. But the press coverage has only been positive or invisible, there's been nothing negative, and it's Texas so it's not like there's overshadowing when you're up to 12 FBS teams. Everyone is overshadowed on a given day, that's just how Texas rolls." - Adam Woodyard
Most G5 fans I know don't begrudge the incredible riches heaped upon our more fortunate cousins. Some fans (to my chagrin) claim both a G5 and a P5 program to favor. Arkansas State's athletic director Terry Mohajir even attempted to straddle that wobbly line, but the effort fizzled.
Frankly, G5 Groupies don't want to be mascots to Power Five programs. If you're not "all in," you're not in at all. If you have to ask me "Hey, did the Red Wolves win this weekend," then you're not a fan. You're just somebody who is vaguely aware of our existence.
"There's a constant stream of disrespect coming from each program that Texas State fans have to deal with. Snobby Texas fans (including the hordes who got their t-shirts from Wal-Mart) often liken Texas State to Austin Community College in the same breath, even though our graduates get more jobs in a number of fields because we don't have the entitlement complex UT graduates do.
A&M fans still seem to think that half of our campus is wearing burnt orange, even though we mostly shamed that behavior off of campus years ago. Baylor...well, I remember when I did play-by-play for the NCAA Softball Tournament in Waco when BU's announcers were caught with a hot mic describing our recruits from Houston as "the trash that Baylor didn't want." It's not a coincidence that I root against all three schools on gameday with few exceptions." – Will Butler
It's the arrogance we hate most; the expectation that despite our degrees or proximity to campus we should shift allegiances to the more financed brand. What's not always respected is that our investment in our G5 team is no less than any fan's investment. Several years ago, I posted a story titled Can Hog Fans Really, Truly Be Red Wolves Fans where I attempted to isolate and identify the source of my fandom.
Being a fan is not something to take lightly – whether it's being a fan of a sports team or a soft drink. Your fandom is a part of your personality. It's ingrained in who you are. It compels you to hang flags from your front stoop and wear t-shirts of questionable design. It's why you argue with friends and strangers. It's why you lose sleep after heartbreaking losses. Hell, it's why the losses are heartbreaking at all.
Many are born to cheer the Power 5, and fraternity open to anyone willing to buy a t-shirt at a gas station. You earn your G5 fandom. It's brokered by enduring the dismissal of smug sportscasters, taking off work early to make a mid-week game, buying the one hat made available to you at Dick's Sporting Goods, and bearing the slings and arrows of P5 fans calling your campus a "directional school." Our fandom is pure.
Long live the G5.