The event that I attended was the Texas A&M University vs Northwestern State on Thursday, August 30th at 7:30 PM. I watched the game at a friend’s apartment. The game was sponsored by Texas A&M, and ultimately the purpose of the football game is profit. However, side benefits that Texas A&M probably appreciates include fostering school spirit, allowing a wholesome space for students to vent their aggression, and a university wide socialization event. Game night fosters diversity through the presence of an event where the whole school can come together.
An idea often used in movies to bring diverse groups together is to provide a common enemy, and the opposing team provides a convenient point of opposition.
Game night provides a very convenient setting for friend groups to come together. When a number people come together their behavior changes by virtue of simply being in a group. This group behavior can often be explained by group processes.
Group processes are expressed when people come together and form their own values and a sense of community. Aggies are one such group and game nights allow for a backdrop to see how this sense of values and community colors A&M behavior might deviate from the norm.
Texas A&M loves football. To some that is a statement of fact. An entire section of the student body, the Corps, travels to every away game, and various alumni come to seemingly every home football game. Gameday effectively shuts down College Station, whether it is due to traffic, or large portions of the population watching the game in some way or form College Station transformed seemingly overnight.
There was an influx of parents and older alumni driving to college station and clogging up Highway Six and the streets of Texas and University on the first game day of the year. Some schools love football, and some schools also shutdown for gameday, but for Aggies football is almost a religion. That is the feeling you get on game day, but on a normal day of campus you’d be hard pressed to find any sign of this obsession. Sure, it comes up during side conversations, but you don’t see any signs of fanaticism walking from the MSC to classes. Actually it’s much more common to see a row of banners advertising FLOs or clubs than to see Aggie sports banners on any given day. Gameday acts as seemingly another “holy” day in Texas A&M, albeit one that doesn’t leave a lasting impression on the weekday.
Game nights provide a nationwide view of A&M to anyone who happens to be watching that particular game. In the Northwestern State game, there were often sky views of the stadium and subsequent camera zooms into the crowd. The camera overviews of the 12th man after touchdowns or big plays provided an almost ideal image of aggies to the nation. The view showed members of the corps dressed up in their uniforms hands on each others shoulders moving to the Aggie fight song. This is a display of camaraderie commonly seen during the game, but very rarely do strangers come into such close contact with you on a normal day. That is not to say that the Texas A&M University campus is devoid of friendliness, but only on game days and midnight yell, does the trademark camaraderie really feel tangible. As a whole Texas A&M game day is a experience unique to College Station, with outbursts of school spirit and camaraderie that seem otherwise absent on a normal weekday.
When the Texas A&M student body come together on game day, a sort of visceral change happens to individuals. We turn from stressed out college students to the 12th man that bleeds maroon, and for some a third change celebratory change happens where the main objective is to get intoxicated and find your way to Northgate. My STEM major friends went from complaining about chemistry to ragging on two-percenters in what seemed like an instantaneous change, when kickoff started. Suddenly their group status changed from STEM students to the 12th man. When you join the 12th man the football team’s struggles become your struggles, and each penalty is a personal affront to your character. This change in personality and priorities can be explained for example by deindividuation. On game day when seemingly everyone around you bleeds maroon for our team, suddenly you get caught up with the group, and soon everyone is invested maybe a bit too much in the game.
There is an interesting phenomenon where referees serve as a sort of verbal punching bag for anyone who watches the game. This well placed hate for the referees is a very interesting phenomenon. Suddenly cool headed individuals bombard these men, who are only doing their jobs, with expletives and judgements. Of course the fact that we were watching on the TV, and thus the fact that our curses remained anonymous, played a role in our unabated bashing of these referees, but it still is a striking phenomenon. This may be explained by social identity theory, Which states that a person derives value from the group that they identify with (Tajfel & Turner 1979; Turner et al., 1987). According to this theory, because the referee’s call hurts the performance of the Aggies, it has the same effect as if the penalty was called on us or as if our self-image itself was targeted. Thus our actions, or in this case our reactions, are colored by our belonging to the “12th man. As Aggies and as the 12th man we have invested into the Texas A&M football team, and their success plays a part in our evaluation of the school and thus ourselves. We have voluntarily committed to being the 12th man and so any event that affects the football team we see as an attack against us and our self-esteem. This is why we act so hostile to referees who seem, in our minds, to be against us whenever a penalty ruins a play. The tendency for people to attribute their self-worth with the group, as shown by our sharp reaction against the refs, is a prime example on how the group affects us.
With these examples, I think that game day was very successful in giving students an outlet for aggression and frustration, and also as a social experience where one can feel they truly belong to a group. While extreme groups might lead to extreme behavior and group think, these close groups also lead to a better feeling of belonging and purpose. Examination of more extreme groups like Aggies could lead to better understanding of counter-cultures and sub-cultures that foster a sense of belonging but may seem extreme to the outside like extremist groups or cults.