In a year or two, there’ll be no shortage of premium seats for big-time sports in Nashville. For the right price, you’ll be able to command a spot far removed from the sweatshirt-wearing rabble. If you’re momentarily occupied and miss a score, you’ll be able to catch the instant replay courtesy of the mini-TV beside you.
And, of course, if your pockets are so stuffed with cash that your pants sag, you can summon your very own waitperson and wow friends and clients with Swedish meatballs in your own private luxury suite.
At least in the sports realm, our little city will be living large. Things are changing.
Which is one compelling reason to visit Lipscomb University’s McQuiddy Gym, where things mostly remain the same. In a town that seems hell-bent on the big-time, the atmosphere at pious Lipscomb U. seems stubbornly, refreshingly small.
Inside McQuiddy, students still plaster the painted cinderblock walls with hand-lettered signs and banners. Except for visitors from rival schools, most everybody in the crowd knows most everybody else. After all, even when the place is packed to the massive iron rafters, there can’t be more than 3,000 people on hand.
In years past, Lipscomb, a tiny school, enjoyed a disproportionate number of appearances in the wide spotlight of the national media. The big press took notice when Phil Hutcheson broke the all-time collegiate basketball scoring record in 1990and again when John Pierce broke Hutcheson’s mark in 1994. They paid attention, too, when the Bisons became the only college team to win more than 40 games.
Even Sports Illustrated showed up when Lipscomb and Belmont renewed their ongoing ”Battle of the Boulevard.“ So intense was the demand for seats that the schools adjourned some of their encounters to Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, which could accommodate more than 15,000including a fair number of neutral onlookers who turned out simply to see a great rivalry.
But the series ended when Belmont jumped to NCAA Division I competition this season. Meanwhile, with the imminent arrival of big-league sports to the city, attention to small-college programs like Lipscomb’s has shrunk. In fact, it’s possible to walk through the front doors of Quonset-style McQuiddy Gym and imagine that you’ve been let in on a well-kept secret.
But if attention from outsiders has diminished, devotion from Lipscomb insiders remains as intense as ever. The 1997-98 Bisons, though perhaps less robust than some of coach Don Meyer’s earlier vintages, have maintained a top-10 ranking throughout the season. When a big game arrives, as when Lipscomb took on old nemesis Birmingham Southern, opponents can expect a rambunctious, raucous reception.
McQuiddy is what fans affectionately dub a ”pit“a compact, venerable venue in which the noise reverberates off the walls and in turn often rattles the visitors.
In the dim old gymnasium, where fading signs high on the back walls recall past glories, you can be so close to the action that you could hear courtside conversations, were there ever a quiet moment. On the front row of the student side, it’s possible to sit a scant three feet from the court.
Although the admission is still general, many of the catbird seats are occupied by early-arriving student ultrassporting wigs, face paint, and, in one case, a mini-hoop attached to a fan’s headwho venture as close to a Mardi Gras ambiance as a school with Church of Christ roots will allow. Perhaps even more disconcerting to the original David Lipscomb might be the hip-hop, jock-jam tunes that wail from the PA system during time-outs.
For highly ranked Birmingham Southern, which upset Lipscomb to win the national title in 1990, the McQuiddy crowd was particularly rowdy. Although Lipscomb trailed most of the game, the fans whooped and hollered to rally their team. Meyer, whose animated style, by itself, is generally worth the price of admission, was in fine form tooonce nosing so intently into the action that a hustling player inadvertently sent the coach’s glasses flying.
It all proved to no avail for the Bisons, who lost 84-73. But the game at least proved an old point. All the big-time glitz that soon will be a hallmark of Nashville sports can’t adequately replace an old-time atmosphere.
Chills, thrills, horrors!
With a few days yet to go, CBS’ coverage from Nagano has brought us a number of Olympic highlights. A couple of my perverse favorites occurred on Sunday.
As the network’s way of introducing us to a new event, we were treated to Snowboarding 101. Instead of a promised demonstration, the segment mostly featured a scraggly, Muppet-ish character whose entire vocabulary consisted of ”Snowboard.“ He failed to provide any comic relief (thanks, Network Dudes, for thinking we might need some), but millions were undoubtedly relieved when the cameras returned to the athletes.
The award for blathering commentaryand, believe me, the competition was hellishly fiercewent to the cheery voice that called the women’s downhill ski race. As the camera zoomed in on Picabo Street awaiting her turn on the slope, the announcer explained that she was running the course with her mind’s eye.
Perhaps he was simply more perceptive than the rest of us. With her Walkman headphones plugged into her ears, her eyes closed, lips moving, head bobbing in rhythm, we laypeople would have simply assumed that Picabo was singing along to whatever music was in her head.
I like the Winter Olympics. Better than the Summer Games, in fact. The Winter Games seem more egalitarian than their warm-weather counterparts, more internationalist in spiriteven though fewer countries participateand much less predictable.
American men and women, for example, always win the relay races on the track. The individual sprints are dominated by the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. Like clockwork, North Africans or East Africans win the distance races.
The dynamics are different in winter, when the summer superpowers enjoy no advantage over far smaller countries from cold climes. Americans compete with Canadians often as underdogs, and seldom better than equals. In their respective skiing specialties, Finland and Switzerland are as formidable as anyone, and even county-sized Liechtenstein has produced medal contenders.
In men’s hockey, the competition is more balanced than ever before. In speed skating, winners have emerged from three different continents. And except for figure skating, where a traditional snippishness prevails, the competitors in the individual sports often exhibit a real feeling of camaraderie.
Unfortunately, much of the Olympic spirit has been paved over by American broadcasters, whose soap-opera-tinged reporting has been influenced not only by viewer demographics but by a view that the unsophisticated public will tune out without the aid of jabbering melodrama. (One bright spot: At least John Tesh didn’t make it to Nagano.)
By contrast, those fortunate enough to view the games via Canadian Broadcasting have seen a greater variety of sports and far less inane commentary.
Given the relentless focus on Americans and megawinners, it seems somehow fitting that one of the few reflections of the open-door Olympic ideal was left to a commercial. The ad, sponsored by IBM, presented a simple, first-person narrative by an unlikely downhill skier from Cyprus.
The spotperhaps unintentionallydrew attention to the vast dimension of the Games completely ignored by big TV. At the end of the story, an announcer invited viewers to find out how the young Cypriot fared. You have to look it up on the Web.