Opinion: The ROC needs to stoke the camping fire for football

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Jackson Payne
Daily Universe editor Jackson Payne and friends camp out for the BYU football season opener against Cal as freshmen in Sept. 2018.

Growing up, I thought camping sounded like the dumbest idea ever.

Why would anyone burn their precious free time sleeping on the ground outside? Didn’t we invent houses just to avoid that?

Needless to say, earning my Eagle Scout was an uphill battle.

My whole perspective changed once I arrived on campus as a freshman three years ago. I found the one thing that would make camping worthwhile for me — BYU football.

Before the season opener against Cal back in September 2018, my fellow Helaman Halls dorm dwellers and I formed a group to camp out in an attempt to secure front row seats. We orchestrated an elaborate, color-coded spreadsheet on Excel to assign shifts for who would hold our spot over the next 48 hours. For a bunch of 18 year olds who were a mere two weeks removed from living at home, it was remarkably thorough.

Our squad threw the football around, played guitar, sang, watched “Bruce Almighty” on Netflix (thanks to the surprisingly adequate stadium Wi-Fi) and enjoyed each other’s quality company as we waited in line. I slept in a hammock hanging from the stadium gates the first night and then just right on the concrete pavement for the second. Thankfully, someone was thoughtful enough to bring me cookies while I slept. Good people are out there, everyone.

Daily Universe reporter Jackson Payne sleeps on the pavement outside LaVell Edwards Stadium as a freshman in order to secure a front row seat at BYU football’s season opener against Cal in September 2018. (Photo courtesy of Alex Pierce)

The scene outside LaVell Edwards Stadium on game day eve was an absolute show. Tents were lined up behind us and wrapped all the way around the stadium, with crowds of students everywhere dancing, playing games, talking football and soaking in the unique festive atmosphere. A few entrepreneurs even emerged, with makeshift vendors peddling pizza from tent to tent and another selling several boxes worth of homemade “Utah sucks” T-shirts.

The game itself was largely forgettable — a young, hotshot freshman quarterback named Zach Wilson was still a few weeks away from seeing the field. Despite the disappointing loss to Cal, none of us regretted camping out. It remained one of our most notable memories from freshman year and helped quickly transform a group of relative strangers who shared a community shower area into brothers for life.

It was this wonderful experience that made the recent ROC announcement prohibiting pregame camping all the more painful.

While the ROC listed construction as the reason for giving camping the boot, there would have been an easy fix — having fans camp in a different spot away from the construction. I’m no genius, but that sounds like it would have solved the problem. It’s unclear whether the camping ban is permanent or just for the time being, but the ROC can’t afford to lose camping as a resource for fans.

Cougar fans came in droves for last Saturday’s upset rivalry win against Utah. LaVell’s house sold out for the first time in four years and the ROC was more packed than I’d ever seen in my life. Getting into the game, however, proved stressful.

In the past, groups would camp in line to receive line cards that determined what order they entered the stadium. Cards would be distributed to campers on the morning of game day, and there was a set time that everyone was instructed to line up in their card’s numerical order to prepare for entry. This system allowed for fans to tailgate at their own leisure without worrying about getting inside since their line status was already settled.

This past Saturday, the “Cougar Canyon” tailgating experience was well-received, but too many students faced the conflict of missing the festivities by having to stand in line. Students shouldn’t be taken away from tailgating; they should be the ones fueling the game day experience.

Speaking of the game day experience, I need to mention Provo’s serious lack of a true sports joint. For such a classic college town, how is there nowhere to throw down some wings and catch the Saturday slate of college football? I’m sure we could afford to bulldoze one of Provo’s 8,000 cookie stores or pickle ball courts for a Buffalo Wild Wings or similar establishment.

My proposal? The door is wide open to dominate the local campus sports grub market. Someone needs to open a new spot with wings, specialty sodas (since we’re in Utah county) and Cougartails. Students can pay with CougarCash or meal plans, and the doors are always open for road game watch parties. You could name it after one of BYU’s past legends, like “Detmer’s.” If anyone wants to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity, contact me immediately, because I have ideas.

Back to camping. The Cougars are ranked No. 23 in the country. They beat Utah — arguably the toughest game on their schedule — and could make some serious noise down the stretch. Fans are hooked on the team and want to be part of the ride.

There is a definite market for camping. There is no reason the ROC shouldn’t be full at every remaining game this season. Why not maximize the student section experience by promoting a camping weekend?

Allowing students to camp will raise hype for the football team like wildfire across campus. If this season turns out as special as it could, Cougar faithful will need to take full advantage and pitch their tents for the cause.

And who knows, maybe people will meet their lifelong friends while camping like I did.

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