The Great Stadium Debate, in-state recruiting, and nostalgia for Hog basketball.
These are the topics that are guaranteed to be brought up every year among Razorback fans. This time of year, it’s all about the lack of butts in seats watching the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.
I walked into Bud Walton Arena this past Tuesday night for a game between Arkansas and Evansville. It was an 8:00 tip against a team most people would probably need Google to tell you which state it was located, so I pretty much assumed it was going to be a light crowd.
When Arkansas is 3-4 and it’s a school night, it can be pretty difficult to get fans up for this sort of game. As the ball goes up for the opening tip, I look around the arena trying to decide my ballpark estimate for how many people are actually in attendance. Looks pretty much like It was what's become pretty much average for a late Tuesday night in mid December game against an unfamiliar, mid-major opponent. But I noticed a very glaring issue.
The student section is a ghost town.
I was the “leader” of the student section in my time at the University of Arkansas. I rocked my Hog headband and a Brandon Dean #13 jersey for every game I could. Most of the seasons where I was a student were pretty average. Minimal success. No postseason. No excitement. Nothing. But we in the Trough built up a pretty good group of kids that showed up and brought hell. The two front rows were filled every game except the ones where most of the kids went home for Winter Break. We were innovative, motivated, and dedicated to giving our team an edge over the opponent. The rest of the Bud Walton Arena spectators fed off of us.
It may not have been as impactful as the mythical mid 1990’s Trough, but by God we did our best.
I thought about all of that during the Evansville game. So when I saw the pathetic excuse for a student section, it infuriated me.
Has it really been that long since I left the U of A? The bottom of the student section was filled every game in 2013-2014. Now the front row had 13 kids on it. THIRTEEN. Was it finals week? Did Christmas break start early? Was there a wreck at the Bobby Hopper tunnel? What happened?
No wonder the overall crowds are so terrible. If the students who get prime seats for a next-to-nothing price can’t show up, why should the regular fans? I’ve seen more people show up for women’s games under Tom Collen than what I am seeing so far this year.
I felt bad for the Razorback players. Coming off the best season in almost a decade to this reception from fans the following year. The athletes on the floor deserve better because they had no control over the difficult offseason this program went through. This is actually a pretty exciting team that scores a lot of points and is getting better. Fans should give them a shot.
That being said, everyone understand that when a team takes a step back in competitiveness, fans are not as excited and eager to show up. I’m not saying there should be 19,200 people at every Razorback basketball game, but there should be more. To do this though, it has to be a group effort by everyone involved.
First, the team has to be better on the floor and competitive (they're getting there). Second, the students have to show up and be maniacal (even if it’s a small number of them). Third, the administration has to make sure that games are as easy as possible for fans to attend. Ticket prices, concessions, parking, and other things have to be improved on their end. Finally, the season ticket holders have to start making a better effort to actually use the seats that they paid for. It blows my mind that people would spend around $500 for a single season ticket yet not use them at every opportunity they get. But hey, that’s their business, not mine. It’s a lot easier said than done, but if Bud Walton is to be full again, that’s what needs to happen.
Once SEC play begins for Arkansas, there will be more people attending games due to the level of competition improving. As well it should. Maybe by the end of the year the crowds will be much better because - dreams and prayers - the team has defied all expectations and are on their way to an NCAA Tournament bid. Even if that did happen, are we really going to be having the same discussion about lack of attendance at Bud Walton Arena this time next season?
You and I both know the answer to that.
John Nabors is the host of The Forum, weekdays 12:00 - 2:00 on ESPN 99.5 FM in Northwest Arkansas. Listen online out of the area on ESPN995.com.