Matt Fletcher might be the most-known man on campus. He is certainly the most visible.
Although Fletcher spends most of his day at a desk in the Student Union right next to Union Express and the University Store, his office is inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Whereas many people have pictures of loved ones, favorite paintings or other significant objects in their office, Fletcher has a banner. It’s one of many banners hanging from the rafters of Historic Gallagher-Iba Arena, but it’s the most relevant to Fletcher and his occupation.
The banner reads: “Welcome to America’s Number One Collegiate Arena – CBS Sports Line, August 2001.”
“It brings back a lot of memories for me,” Fletcher said. “It brings back memories of that drive that used to be around here, and it gives me a goal.”
A Thing of the Past
Fletcher doesn’t have an official title but his job is to get students involved in athletics, specifically men’s basketball. It’s a simple problem with a complex solution.
Host of the original dynasty in college basketball, Gallagher-Iba Arena used to be the definition of home-court advantage. Students packed the arena and the place came alive during every game during the day’s Eddie Sutton roamed the sidelines and the Cowboys were consistently atop the Big 12 throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
Fletcher was around for the tail end of that era of Oklahoma State basketball and his job with OSU communications the last couple of years allowed him to witness the decline of what was known as “The Rowdy”.
“I know what it’s like to be in that arena in the front row when everyone is there, going nuts and putting everything you have into it,” Fletcher said. “It was more than just a basketball game. That’s something I want our students to experience.”
The Gonzaga Experiment
The 2012-2013 OSU men’s basketball team was poised to return the winning ways of the program and the OSU front office hoped the students and fans would follow suit and attend games. Even with the team gaining national buzz after beating No. 6 North Carolina State and Fletcher giving out free tickets to home games, Gallagher-Iba Arena still hovered at 50-60 percent capacity.
That’s when team members began doing their part to connect with students. Star players Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart handed out flyers advertising the team’s schedule and coach Travis Ford personally invited students at the student union to attend games. Other players got involved as well, volunteering their free time to build a connection with the student body.
“I don’t know many teams that do that; as far as most players think, they are little too good to go over there,” Ford said. “The students and people appreciate that.”
Still, the Cowboys had yet to play for a crowd of more than 10,000 due to out of town fans failing to make the effort to attend games.
Enter Boone Pickens.
OSU’s most famous alum bought the remaining unsold tickets for the Cowboys New Year’s Eve matchup with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Fans and students claimed the tickets in a matter hours. The result was a sold out crowd unequaled in the minds of OSU players.
“It was one of the biggest crowds I’ve played in or seen,” Cowboy forward Kamari Murphy said. “It was crazy.”
Although Fletcher was pleased with the turnout for the Gonzaga game, there was still something missing in his mind.
“We didn’t have the students (present at the game),” Fletcher said. “The students are what make it a fun atmosphere. The students definitely bring the energy, and it feeds to everyone else.”
The Gonzaga experiment proved that “The Rowdy” was not dead and Fletcher’s goal of bringing back Gallagher-Iba Arena as “America’s Number One Collegiate Arena” was within reach.
“We showed that we could still (fill the arena),” Fletcher said. “I think it opened athletics’ eyes to some things, also. There may be some price changes coming in the future of how much tickets are.”
The Winning Formula
Students and fans have responded to the off-the-court efforts of Ford and his players. In recent years, sellouts only happened on rare occasions. Now it’s expected.
“I think I’ve seen one sellout my first two years and I saw three or four in a row here,” OSU guard Brian Williams said. “There is nothing like it (playing in front of a sellout crowd). You lose yourself in the moment.”
It helps, of course, that the team is winning. The Cowboys are currently ranked No. 13 in the country are projected to be a four or five seed in the NCAA tournament later this month. OSU is 14-2 at home this season with the only losses coming to the current No.1 team in the nation, Gonzaga, and No. 4 Kansas.
“They have been waiting to see us win,” Williams said. “I feel like we needed a season like this to get the fans back into it.”
Time will tell if the free tickets, player interactions and winning basketball games will yield any long term results. However, this season has been successful and a step toward Gallagher-Iba Arena reemerging as “The Rowdiest Arena in the Country”.
“The students around here are getting excited about it again,” Fletcher said. “I think next year we are going to take some big steps to make sure that sticks.”
UP NEXT: OSU vs. Kansas State
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena
Time: 12:30 p.m.