It’s about a lot more than football.
Just ask the alumni returning to campus to reconnect with former classmates. Ask the students who plan to live it up where they usually study. Ask the faculty and staff eager to share downtime with colleagues over Chik-Fil-A.
The culmination of a week of activities, the Homecoming game at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday pits the Panthers against Liberty University. For FIU, it’s a chance to improve upon an impressive 3-1 record in front of a home crowd.
But it’s also about reveling in the spirit of the university, enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful campus and coming together as a community, say the “regulars.”
“It’s just a fun environment to be in, especially seeing everyone show up,” says senior Tatiana Alvarez. “The energy is just so out there, and I really want to be a part of that,” the sociology major adds. She will use her free student companion ticket and others she purchased so her non-FIU peeps can join her FIU peeps for a roaring good time.
“This is a chance to celebrate the team with our friends and neighbors," says physics professor Pete Markowitz, who plans to bring along his actual neighbors. “For people who haven’t been to a football game, they don’t know what they’re missing. They should come early so they can enjoy the pregame festivities because that is part of the fun.”
To get ready for the Big Show, Panthers can arrive as soon as 12:30 p.m. Athletic Director Scott Carr, now in his second year at FIU, revived tailgating last season and has ensured a great time for all who come out.
Students can meet at their now-regular stomping grounds: the grand patio of Tamiami Hall, where music and palm trees set the scene for a night under the stars to follow. Best of all, they need only take a few steps to get into their designated section in FIU Stadium.
The Office of Alumni Relations has set the table for graduates to congregate so they can relive old memories and create new ones. And their kids will thrill to the inflatables and other diversions.
University employees – many seated in complimentary “good seats” as part of staff appreciation efforts – can sip on FIU’s own Sunblazer pale ale, a beverage as refreshing as its can is beautiful. Other concessions will likewise feed the hungry in anticipation of an eventful evening of camaraderie in the stands and athletic prowess on the field, all of it punctuated by the strains of the marching band.
Exciting athletic action
Admittedly, FIU’s opponent on Saturday poses the most formidable competition of the season, say those in the know. Still, the Panthers are coming off a series of three wins in a row – including a breathtaking one last weekend on the road – that has boosted their confidence and set the scene for a potential upset.
“The team has been improving every game,” says Markowitz, the physics professor, who serves as the faculty athletic representative, a volunteer position that has him advocating for student-athletes across all sports. Markowitz emphasizes that the team’s most-recent victory, over the highly favored University of Connecticut Huskies, demonstrates just how far the Panthers have come. And, he adds, “Saturday is going to be even more fun because [Liberty University] is an even better team for us to beat.”
With their best season start in years, the team has been riding high on the talents of true freshman quarterback and engineering student Keyone Jenkins and redshirt sophomore running back and liberal studies major Kejon Owens. Former standouts at Miami Central High School, although they never played together there, the duo command a ton of local support and have captured lots of media attention this season. They and their mates aim to surprise spectators with a fourth consecutive win.
Good news all around
The Homecoming game follows several weeks during which the university gained national attention for its leap in the rankings of top educational institutions. The Wall Street Journal earlier this month ranked FIU the fourth best among all public universities in the country. Washington Monthly in late August ranked FIU among the Top 20 universities in the nation. And U.S. News & World Report on Monday named FIU the No. 64 best public university in America, one of very youngest to be listed so high.
The momentum created by the recognitions has prompted widespread joy on campus as well as excitement among alumni.
“We’re No. 4 in the rankings. That’s incredible,” says John Paul Fernandez ’08, MS ’09 of FIU’s rise. “That blows my mind, makes me really proud of the school.”
The real estate broker says he wouldn’t dare miss the chance to meet a few new folks and maybe catch up with William Hardin, dean of FIU Business and an internationally renowned real estate expert, from whom Fernandez took a class years ago and with whom he has stayed in touch. Reminiscing too with his alumna wife and young daughters about the “old days,” when portable classrooms still dotted the campus, also reminds him that his alma mater is on a fast track.
“I would say that going back at Homecoming, or any time, is really eye opening. You can see how far we’ve come.”
Game tickets: Students enter free with their One Card (and can secure guest pass weekdays, in person, at the football box office); faculty and staff can take advantage of complimentary and discounted tickets while supplies last; those attending as part of Parents and Family Weekend can purchase discounted tickets; everyone can make purchases through FIU's official online ticketing site. Alumni admission to Roar Lounge can be purchased online. Tailgating begins on campus at 12:30 p.m.