LEADING THE CHARGE OF GETTING STUDENTS TO GAMES
The University of San Diego has it all. Breathtaking views, a pristine campus, rigorous academics and even a handful of consistently competitive Division I sports teams.
But historically, there’s been something missing: school spirit.
It’s a lack that USD students and administrators are working to address. “It’s front burner for me, every day,” says Associate Vice President and Executive Director of Athletics Bill McGillis. The task has not been easy, but progress has been slow but steady and the Bull Pit — USD’s student section — has undergone a transformation.
Leading the charge is Robbie Hill ’14, assistant director for marketing. He knows all too well the challenges around trying to build energy around USD’s 17 Division I sports.
“Obviously it’s tough,” Hill admits. In a city like San Diego — where beaches, nightlife and countless other attractions beckon to students — it’s hard to make a USD game the can’t-miss destination on a weekend night. “We never want to blame the Pacific Ocean, but that, of course, is always a factor with the beach so close, and so many things going on in San Diego.”
Hill and McGillis view their mission to get more students to games as a work in progress. In its current form, the Bull Pit has only been around since 2014. By comparison, Gonzaga University’s Kennel Club is in its 34th season, and San Diego State’s The Show dates back to 2001.
The challenge lies in creating a buzz that goes beyond the packed houses that come when top-ranked teams come to town. “It can’t just be about the Gonzaga basketball game,” McGillis says. “We can do the same thing against Saint Mary’s and BYU and LMU and Pepperdine — if we choose to as a campus community. But we’ve got to change the mindset.”
McGillis hopes to transform the way the Torero community thinks about attending games in general. “It has to be about USD, it’s got to be about the Toreros. We’ve got to work to change that, and we are.”
One strategy is to expand the scope and organization of the Bull Pit, through incentives and giveaways, and to be strategic about attracting students to games. “Next year, we’re forming an Associated Students Athletics Committee,” Hill says. It will include athletes, administrators and the Torero Program Board.
And the Bull Pit has found a new place to cheer on Torero basketball: courtside, on the baseline, under the basket — a significant upgrade from their upper-level seating of previous years. It’s a change that displaced some season ticket holders, but McGillis believes the move was worth it.
Of course, the burden of finding a way to get Toreros to attend games doesn’t fall solely on the Bull Pit.
“School spirit starts with winning, and we have to do that at a higher level,” McGillis says. “More and more students want to contribute to increasing school spirit. We’re going to continue working at it every day.” — Anderson Haigler ’19
A version of this story originally appeared in The USD Vista.