Playoffs lack boom of regular season


Ky McCombe

Mike Leako ( above) is known by the campus and locals as “ the cannon guy” for shooting a cannon when the UW-Whitewater Football team scores touchdowns, Saturday Nov. 6th, 2021.

Parker Olsen, Assistant Sports Editor

As NCAA playoffs kick into action, the UW-Whitewater sports game day experience gets limited. Playoff games are meant to be a neutral atmosphere, meaning the host has to give up part of its home field advantage.

Known for having a top game day atmosphere and experience in Division III, Warhawk football is forced to give up their cannon during the playoffs, along with their introduction video and the smoke machines used as the team enters the field. The NCAA installed rules, just after the football team had its rise to the national stage in the mid 2000’s, which limited home field advantages such as shooting the cannon.

“We’ve hosted a number of playoff games… we have a really good feel for what you can and can’t do. I think the thing we always fall back on is making sure it is fair for both teams,” said Director of Athletics Ryan Callahan. “We used to have the cannon during playoff games but that was an artificial noisemaker so we can’t do that during the playoffs anymore.”

NCAA rules prohibit the use of artificial noisemakers, the document specifically states cannons are not allowed. This means fans miss out on a staple of Warhawk football’s game day atmosphere. Army veteran Mike Lesko, “The Cannon Man,” has been firing his 300 pound replica Confederate cannon after every Warhawk score for the last 27 years. He said that the noise is what makes this unique part of Whitewater’s atmosphere a hit. Lesko lets volunteers and randomly picked people to shoot the cannon.

“The idea originally was to have the ROTC department shoot it,” said Lesko. “When we approached our senior instructor they said ‘no, can’t do it’ because it would be a political statement, this being in 1993, what possibly?… So that’s why the ROTC has never shot it here, where they probably shoot it at every other university that has a cannon.”

The missing pieces are not just due to NCAA rules. The Warhawk Marching Band, normally seen on the field performing during the regular season at halftime, does not perform on field during the playoffs. The number of band members in the stands is substantially lower during the playoffs than a regular season game. This is due to Band Director Glenn Hayes’ decision not to push the marching band too far.

“We have always had the policy here, that I instituted, that playoff football would be a volunteer pep band, and everyone has been happy with that,” said Hayes. “The reason is I think it’s too much to ask students to commit to four additional Saturdays, not knowing if they are going to occur or not. It ties up family plans, plus it’s deer season, it’s Thanksgiving weekend, we have our gala concert on the first Saturday… It’s cold as all get out, which is tough on the instruments.” 

The band director explained that other universities have had issues with member numbers as a result of being required to perform on field during playoff season, Hayes said the numbers fell by nearly 50 percent. This shows that in part thanks to their absence from the field during the playoffs, the Warhawk Marching Band can keep its high numbers and quality, keeping their title of “Wisconsin’s finest.”

“Our show is written for the full Warhawk Marching Band,” said Hayes. “If we went out there with 60 people, it would look like a bad game of connect the dots, there would be no form, there would be missing parts. Sometimes I yield the national anthem to the press box because we don’t have enough.”

NCAA rules and the best interest of the Warhawk Marching Band mean that playoff game atmosphere relies solely on the fans and the team’s performance on the field. Lucky for the Warhawk football team, there was an average attendance of over 10,500 each game in Perkins Stadium this season. Warhawk fans will need to bring the energy as they cheer on all the teams fighting for a national title.