Taking into account the Tribune-Herald’s circulation and online readership, I figure about 60,000 sets of eyes may read this column. Maybe more, maybe less. In actuality, it’s meant for only a couple thousand of you.
My sermon today is addressed to the 2,000 or so Baylor fans with reasonable means who could attend the men’s basketball games but choose not to, for whatever reason. I don’t approach you in a spirit of finger-wagging, for shaming sinners into action never seems to work. Truthfully, I’m just puzzled.
So, what’s the deal? Why do you some of you Baylor basketball “fans” — I use the fanatical term loosely — avoid the Ferrell Center as if it’s ground zero for the Zika virus?
Scott Drew’s Bears are averaging 6,230 fans for their home games this season. It marks the second straight year that attendance has dipped lower than the year before.
Remember, Baylor boasts a Top 25 team that has won 14 of its 17 home contests. The Bears have been ranked as high as 13th in the Associated Press Top 25. They play in the Big 12, arguably the best conference in college basketball.
Yet for Baylor’s home battle Tuesday against No. 13 Iowa State, a mere 5,556 people graced the Ferrell Center with their presence. That was the official announced attendance. A more authentic account of the turnout would be described as “pathetic.”
So, what gives? Surely there are more than 5,500 people in Waco who might enjoy a Top 25 men’s basketball game. Especially viewed in hindsight, because the game turned out to be an entertaining 100-91 overtime fireworks show, complete with a barrage of 3-point bombs, one-handed alley-oops and some highlighter-yellow, glow-in-the-dark uniforms for the home kiddos.
One fan on Twitter offered a reason for the empty-seat outbreak for the Iowa State game, essentially calling them excused absences.
“Getting beat by 18 at home on Saturday will do that,” he tweeted, referencing Baylor’s dismal 84-66 home defeat to Texas Tech in the prior game.
OK, that’s one way to look at it, I suppose. But here’s the deal: If you’re waiting for your college basketball team — or any team in any sport anywhere — to never disappoint you, you’re going to be disappointed a lot.
The lethargy displayed by the Bears against the Red Raiders is on the players and coaches. It was a bad loss and Baylor should have played better. But should the fans’ response be to pack up their pom-poms and their giant cardboard cutout heads and call it a season? Of course not.
What kind of front-running poser abandons his team at the first (or second, or even third) sign of adversity? Hello, Mr. Unrealistic Expectations, haven’t you ever had a bad day at the office?
Now, some absences really can be excused. I get that life sometimes prevents a fan’s participation. If you have kids, there are piano lessons and spelling bees and band practices and Little League games that often hinder your attendance at a weekday Baylor game. Stuff happens, and nobody is saying you should feel guilty for having a life outside your fandom.
But, again, I’m not really addressing that segment of the Baylor fan population. It’s those of you who like basketball, who root for Baylor, who could come to the games but opt not to — you are the guys and gals I don’t really understand.
I also get that Baylor, as the second-smallest school in the Big 12, isn’t likely to ever average 10,000 fans every night. But as recently as the 2011-12 season, the Bears drew an average crowd of 7,914, about 1,700 more fans than they’re pulling in now. So what happened to those people?
OK, yes, that was a 30-win Baylor team. It also marked the program’s all-time high in attendance. However, it also came during a stretch where the Bears averaged better than 7,000 in four out of five seasons. Since 2012, attendance has increasingly dwindled, and it’s baffling.
Some have suggested that the officials call the games too tight nowadays and nobody wants to watch a free-throw shooting contest. I’ve also heard the theory floated that Baylor’s rise to the national elite in football has had an adverse effect on other sports’ attendance. The thinking being, a fan who spends money on football season tickets and travels to a bowl game may not have as much disposable income to throw at basketball tickets.
It’s also true that you can basically watch every game on TV nowadays. Sometimes the ease and comfort level of soaking up the action from your leather sofa beats battling the crowd at the arena. After all, you can’t go to the Ferrell Center in your boxer shorts. (No, you can’t. Trust me, nobody wants to see that.)
All valid reasons. There’s probably some truth to each one. Yet I think something else may be at play here, too.
A lot of you Baylor fans have grown spoiled. You’re fickle. You’ve forgotten how good you have it now and you’re taking it for granted. You need to tuck in your neon yellow T-shirts, because your apathy is showing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I think you Baylor fans are capable of so much more. Remember the Elite Eight battle against Duke in 2010, when an estimated 30,000 green-and-gold denizens descended on NRG (formerly Reliant) Stadium in Houston? Talk about a great crowd. It was a sic-’em extravaganza, and it was absolutely sick. Fanatical, even.
Yeah, yeah. It was the Elite Eight. A chance to go to the Final Four. Against Duke. In Houston, a mere three-hour drive from Waco. Of course the crowd was big.
It should be big again Tuesday, when second-ranked Kansas comes to Waco. The Jayhawks, winners of 11 consecutive Big 12 titles, are the top road draw in the conference, averaging 11,896 fans. You would figure such a matchup would bring a crowd of 10,000 to the Ferrell Center, which would be just the second crowd of 10K or more since 2012. (Baylor drew 10K-plus for its game with Oklahoma earlier this season.)
But, then again, with Baylor supporters you never know.
So, visit the Ferrell Center. Good seats are available, even if nobody really knows why.