The other day, “SportsCenter” showed big colleges around the country filling their gyms with fans for the school’s first basketball practice at midnight. That got me thinking about UCSB basketball and how I wished we had that kind of thing for our team.

But then I see that our program is having its first ever “Meet and Greet” with the men’s and women’s teams – but only for season ticket holders. Students get in for free to the games and I have never met one who pays the money to sit on the other side of the court. The exclusion of non-season ticket holders is a slap in the face to the students who want to support our teams.

Of course, the athletic department wants to satisfy the paying customer, but what about the people who are bringing the school exposure? How many of the thousands who rushed the Harder Stadium field after men’s soccer’s 2004 Elite Eight victory were community members? Not many.

Footage of the crowd carrying the goalposts down the street that night was played on ESPN during the College Cup, restoring the Gauchos’ reputation as crazed fans. Displays like that helped the men’s soccer program receive visits from the Fox Soccer Channel and College Sports Television this season. You’re welcome. Now it’s your turn to give back.

Three Big West schools already allow fans to mingle with the players and coaches to kick off the season. The University of the Pacific has its own “Midnight Mania,” UC Irvine couples with Universal Studios for its Halloween-themed shindig and Cal State Fullerton even throws in a barbecue. If Fullerton can pull off such an event, then UCSB should be able to do the same. But instead they decide to have an exclusive event and push away us student supporters.

It is pretty obvious that the athletic department tries very hard to get people to attend the games. Last year, students even had a chance to win a Porsche, and the athletic marketing department is always giving away free stuff. Having a student-team function would only increase student support and get the campus excited for the start of the basketball season. This would be a step toward getting Santa Barbara basketball a fan base that is comparable to men’s soccer.

Everyone wants to see the Thunderdome packed, but the way the athletic department turns its back on the students, I’m starting to think the pictures in the T-Dome lobby of filled-to-capacity crowds were Photoshopped.

I want to see how small I am compared to David Massey. I want to chant “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” to Tom Garlepp’s face. I want to see how much taller I am than Kim Smith. I want to see the players up close and personal and build a student-team relationship. We are the students. This is our school, our team, our peers. Where is our Midnight Madness?

Daily Nexus staff writer Chris Hoffman once tried to throw a Halloween-themed meet and greet with the basketball players, until he realized that UCSB students have really good costumes.