Following another chaotic season of Georgetown basketball, it’s no secret that John Thompson III is feeling the heat from a dissatisfied fan base. The situation has received national media attention, and the idea of moving on from JT3 has become a real possibility.
To me, however, the way that Georgetown has handled this situation has been almost as worrying as the situation itself. The program has tried to close itself off from the public, attempting to silence the fans’ dissatisfaction by cutting off their mouthpieces. It’s clear that Georgetown is unaccustomed to being in this situation with a coach named Thompson, but that does not excuse the school’s behavior as it tries to sort this situation out.
Throughout the season, Georgetown has tried to shield Thompson from any criticism from the fans or media. The team has not announced his name in pregame introductions, presumably fearing that it might elicit boos or other negative reactions. When “Fire Thompson” chants have started in Verizon Center, the arena has played loud music in an attempt to drown out the noise. In addition, Georgetown staff members have apparently started removing any signs referring to the coach from the stands.
If that’s not bad enough, Thompson was not allowed to answer a reasonable question about the future of the program after the team’s blowout home loss to Villanova, and the coach deflected another question about the future after his team lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
As a fan of this team and this program, this approach is very worrisome.
It’s important to remember that we are all on the same side. Georgetown students, alumni, players, coaches, and administration all want the same thing, which is to see the Georgetown basketball program win games and have success at a national level. Everyone at Georgetown — fans, players, administration— all acknowledge that Thompson is a good person who has been an excellent representative of the school and the program. Right now, fans do not have a problem with Thompson himself — we have a problem with the results he and his teams are producing.
It seems that a false equivalency is being drawn between dissatisfaction with the coach and disloyalty to the program. Sports are traditionally a meritocracy, and fans everywhere have the right to express their dissatisfaction with coaches when they are not producing positive results. Obviously Georgetown is in a unique situation, as John Thompson III and his father have contributed a great deal to the school and the program. Still, fans who are unhappy with Thompson’s performance are still fans. None of us are rooting for the program’s downfall. Quite the opposite, in fact — fans want the results to improve, and Thompson’s teams have shown no signs of being able to make that happen.
The current senior class has witnessed arguably the worst four-year stretch of Georgetown basketball since before John Thompson Jr. was hired. Our one shining moment, the team’s thrilling home upset win over Villanova in 2015, was immediately followed by harsh criticism of the student body for storming the court. Fans and critics said that a historic program like Georgetown should be above behavior like that. Yet, fast-forward two more full seasons, and that remains the one game that Hoya fans have really been able to celebrate over the past four years.
For the most part, it simply has not been an enjoyable experience for students to go to games in the past few years, even for die-hard basketball fans. This means that Georgetown games are unlikely to turn into the social events that play such a large part in defining the college experience of so many students, including many Georgetown alumni. You can argue that fans should go out to Verizon Center to support their classmates and peers on the court, and some of us still do, but for the average student, it’s simply not worth the three hours out of a busy daily schedule to watch a game that will inevitably frustrate you in the end.
Thompson and his teams have won three NCAA Tournament games over the past decade, and one game in the past five seasons. These types of results typically do not, and should not, earn a coach universal and perpetual loyalty from a fan base.
Georgetown is no longer the national brand that it once was. The team is unlikely to attract large numbers of fans outside of alumni and students, particularly if the team does not produce any significant results in the postseason. Georgetown cannot afford to marginalize the growing portion of the fan base that values the program over the Thompson family. Attendance numbers are already dropping, and that fall will continue if the team’s results and approach towards its fan base do not change.
I am extremely proud to be a part of the Georgetown community, and I will always love the Hoyas. I would love nothing more than for John Thompson III to prove us all wrong and turn this program around.
Right now, however, the school is prioritizing the Thompson family, and their feelings, over the team’s results and the fan base’s concerns. The program is casting John Thompson III and his father as being bigger than the team, and the program.
By attempting to silence angry fans, Georgetown, and apparently a certain sect of the fan base, are alienating a large portion of a fan base that is not that large to begin with. And if the school continues with this approach, that anger will quickly fade into something that is much worse for the long-term future of the program — apathy.