CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Mountain East Conference basketball teams are learning what sports teams across the country have had to learn how to do over the last ten months — play in front of no one.
Empty stadiums and arenas have become the new norm across sports.
Last week, the Fairmont State men’s basketball team hosted West Liberty in a nationally ranked-vs-ranked matchup. Zero fans were on hand, the Fighting Falcons couldn’t get a full momentum swim when it needed, and fell at home.
Who knows how differently that game would’ve been played with fans inside Joe Retton Area? But head coach, Tim Koenig, isn’t using that as an excuse.
“I mean, we lost to West Liberty, we’re not going to blame the fact that there weren’t fans in the stands. We just lost,” said Koenig.
That’s just one example of a team picking up a big road win.
Teams in the MEC are off to a significantly better start this season when it comes to playing on the road.
Koenig’s Fairmont State squad is 2-0 away from home, as are the Glenville State men, and Kim Stephen’s GSC Lady Pioneers.
However, the two head coaches agreed where the lack of fans has made the most impact so far.
“Actually, the difference is at home – testament to our crowd, our people, our fans, season ticket holders,” said Koenig. “A couple of our guys actually said it’s tougher at home, because we’re used to having huge crowds, and they’re being very loud. So, the road isn’t actually a huge difference.”
“I don’t think it’s any different or any easier to play on the road. I do think it takes away some of the excitement of playing at home,” agreed Glenville State women’s basketball head coach, Kim Stephens. “So, I don’t really think it has any effect on the opposing team, but I think it takes a little bit of the juice away from the home team.”
So far this season, MEC women’s basketball road teams are 11-12 through Monday’s action (which saw Stephanie Anderson’s Fairmont State team come from behind to win in the fourth quarter). MEC men’s teams have played to the same record away from home.
That’s a .478 winning percentage, a significant jump up from year’s past.
Last season, men’s teams in the conference were 63-94 (40.1 W%) on the road. The year before, teams were 68-85 (44.4 W%) away from home, and they were 68-88 (43.6 W%) during the 2017-2018 season.
On the women’s side, road teams played to a 72-101 (41.6 W%) record a season ago. In the 2018-2019 season, road teams were 68-93 (42.2 W%). The year before that, they were 55-98 (35.9 W%).
So what’s the difference this year? Are the empty arenas a benefit to the visiting teams?
“Quite frankly, it’s kind of the same – home and away. We have to bring energy ourselves on the floor and on the bench. Very similar to practice,” said Koenig.
Stephens added that she doesn’t really notice a difference in the atmosphere on the road, but notices it much more inside the Waco Center.
Both coaches also said that they go back and watch the energy that players on the bench bring during the course of a game. Glenville State players waiting to get in the game can be heard during any season under Stephens, but that energy is especially important this season.
“If’ you’re on the bench, you’re responsible for our energy. Our bench is really, really good. We have kids that cheer nonstop, and they really help bring the energy on the road and at home.”Glenville State women’s basketball head coach, Kim Stephens
Four MEC men’s teams — Fairmont State, Glenville State, West Liberty, and West Virginia State — are undefeated on the road so far this season. All are 2-0. Three women’s teams — University of Charleston, Glenville State and Notre Dame — are also 2-0 on the road so far.
Three of those undefeated men’s teams, along with the UC women are scheduled to play away from home on Wednesday.