Forget six feet apart, Duke students packed into Cameron Indoor Stadium don't even have six inches of space between their sweaty, screaming peers while cheering on the Blue Devils.
This presents an obvious problem with COVID-19 cases spiking throughout the country. After not allowing any spectators at its fall sporting events, Duke has extended that policy toward its winter sports. That means for the foreseeable future, there will be nobody jumping up and down and heckling Blue Devil opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium’s Section 17.
So, what does this all mean for a program that prides itself on having arguably the biggest home-court advantage in all of college basketball and for Duke students whose basketball fandom is an integral part of their identity?
What’s a student section with no fans?
What really sets Cameron Crazies apart from other rabid college basketball fan bases is what happens before tipoff. In order to secure a spot in the student section on game day, Duke students must line up in Krzyzewskiville, the grassy area outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium. This may not sound all that abnormal, but this process often involves sleeping outside in the Durham winter. For the Blue Devil home game against North Carolina, students may sleep outside for weeks on end in a hallowed tradition known as tenting.
A group of students known as line monitors is in charge of Krzyzewskiville and the student section in general. According to their website, line monitors “exist to bring students in the Krzyzewskiville community together to support Duke’s basketball program by facilitating student attendance at home games and monitoring the tenting process for the home UNC game and other major games.”
So, with the primary two reasons of their existence probably rendered irrelevant this fall—there will be no student attendance at home games for the foreseeable future and tenting will likely be cancelled given the crowds it creates—line monitors will be met with a sort of existential crisis this winter. That does not mean all hope is lost with regard to rallying spirit for the Blue Devils this season, though co-head line monitors Hope Morales and Camden Vassallo will be faced with challenges that their predecessors never could have imagined.
“Duke basketball and the way that the fans support the team is such a great tradition at this university,” Vassallo told The Chronicle. “Our goal is to uphold that tradition in the best way that we can, but obviously we have limitations surrounding that. So, we're just going to do our best.”
Morales and Vassallo outlined a few different ways they hope to rally the Cameron Crazies despite the unique circumstances, including potential watch parties and trivia contests on Zoom. Cameron Indoor Stadium will also feature some sort of “amplified music and effects.”
In terms of coming up with ideas for rallying school spirit during a pandemic, Morales and Vassallo have turned to their counterparts at other ACC schools who are also in charge of their respective student sections.
“We all have this group chat now [where] we talk about different ways [to stay involved]. Obviously different schools have different regulations, and some are more lenient than others in terms of fans,” Morales said. “We've been able to kind of struggle together with all these schools.”
No matter the actions line monitors take, Cameron Indoor Stadium will certainly feel emptier this year with no fans. The question is how this will affect the Blue Devils when they take the floor.
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'Develop our own energy'
Over the past five seasons, Duke is 75-9 when playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium, a testament to that unique homecourt advantage.
But this season, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has to prepare his team for a completely different home environment.
“What we'll try to do is try to replicate that as well as we possibly can,” Krzyzewski said Nov. 11 at Operation ACC of how not having the typical Cameron Indoor environment will affect Duke. “We've already had one scrimmage where we've piped in sound and tried to have our guys get accustomed to a certain environment.”
Fake crowd noise was a huge part of the NBA’s Orlando bubble, with many college football teams utilizing it as well, in an attempt to replicate the game-day experience. What Krzyzewski won’t stand for, however, is cardboard cutouts.
While the cardboard cutout has been a staple across the world of sports ever since the Korea Baseball Organization started play in May, don’t expect to see any paper faces inside Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.
“Our people, instead of putting cutouts, they’re gonna celebrate the Cameron Crazies,” Krzyzewski said on a radio interview with ESPNU Nov. 12. “They’re gonna celebrate our band, they’re gonna celebrate different things as a group picture and different things that they could do.
“Not just tarp it—it’s gonna look great, and it wouldn’t look that way if we just had cutouts…. For Cameron, I’m not big on [cutouts].”
Even with the artificial noise and whatever plan Duke has in terms of celebrating its Crazies, it still won’t fully make up for the energy those Crazies bring on a nightly basis in support of their team. For that, it’s up to the players to bring their own energy to the floor.
“Being able to develop our own energy and enthusiasm among ourselves is a huge key for us this year,” junior forward Joey Baker said. “And honestly this team, from what I've seen so far, we bring it every day.”
The Crazies themselves
Of course, arguably those most affected by the current situation are the Crazies themselves, and the impact goes far beyond simply not being able to watch the team play in person.
Krzyzewskiville is more than just the location of tent city every spring semester—it’s a central part of the Duke community. From forming close bonds during tenting to the annual concert prior to the home North Carolina game, Krzyzewskiville is where many Duke students create their fondest memories.
Replacing that is a near impossible task. But by now, students have gotten used to adjusting to the current environment as best they can, a skill Coach K has to instill into his team on the court as well.
“I think that this year, even though there aren't a lot of the normal experiences, I think that in some ways it's kind of bringing people closer,” freshman Anna Schilling said. “It is hard to replace some of these really fun experiences that kind of reach a broad community. But I think that small groups of people are kind of forming together and building really strong connections.”
Schilling did admit that it’s easier for her as a freshman since she “kind of [doesn’t] know what [she’s] missing” and has three years at Duke ahead of her.
For current seniors, this was supposed to be it: the final year of their Cameron Crazie and Section 17 experience. Of course, fan attendance later in the season hasn’t been ruled out, though rising COVID-19 cases across the country and a cautious approach by Duke doesn’t make the prospect of that seem very optimistic.
Nevertheless, if March’s win against North Carolina was the last game current seniors were able to watch as students inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, at least it was a good send-off.
“It’s really just heartbreaking, but at least we went out watching a [win] against UNC,” senior and two-time tenter Cole Honeycutt wrote in a message to The Chronicle. “I wouldn’t trade my time as a Cameron Crazie for the world.”
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.