What it’s like playing, watching at empty arena

An empty arena is the new norm at Calihan Hall due to the pandemic. / VN photo by Victoria Taylor



That's the number of people in the stands when the National Anthem played before Detroit Mercy took on Robert Morris University last Saturday, Feb. 20.

Calihan Hall has 8,295 seats. Only eight were filled.

I had the pleasure of being a part of that small group, and the experience was something unforgettable.

Humor me: Close your eyes and pretend you're attending a basketball game.

What do you see?

Packed parking lot? A line at the concession? People struggling to get to their seats? The crowd erupting after a big play?

Of course, that's all expected at a basketball game.

Due to the pandemic, the environment has changed.

I parked right up front and walked in with no one else around me.

If I had been hungry – and I was – too bad because the concessions were closed.

Got my temperature taken and was guided to the upper deck.

For a moment, my heart dropped.

Out of thousands of seats, I could sit wherever.

When Titan forward Noah Waterman seemingly could not miss in the second half, the cheers were closer to a golf-clap.

The experience was surreal, like an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” 

With the current pandemic, fan-less basketball games have become somewhat normal.

It's unfortunate that we fans are reduced to watching the game on television.

No fan will tell you about the possible positives of not being able to attend.

But we’re not the ones most feeling this changed atmosphere.

What about the other side of this story?

How are players and coaches affected by having no fans in attendance?

Freshman guard Joey Liedel has certainly noticed the difference.

"With fans (and) the noise, sometimes it's harder to hear,” he said. “But at home the fans give you a lot of energy that we feed off. I think it makes a big difference."

Sophomore guard Jamail Pink offered an interesting perspective.

"Definitely less pressure,” he said. “It feels like a practice or a scrimmage and at the same time you understand the game is important. But we love the fans because they bring excitement."

“A double-edged sword?”

He laughed and agreed.

Kahliel Spear, starting forward for Robert Morris, prefers playing for fans.

"It's the energy, a different environment,” he said. “It's still basketball, but it's harder to play without fans."

Titan head coach Mike Davis wants the fans back – especially when playing at Calihan.

"It's the home-court advantage,” he said. “The only ones who can really cheer for you are your own players, your own team. So it's a big difference."

The Titans, by the way, defeated Robert Morris 80-61.

They play again at Calihan Feb. 25.