Attendance numbers continue to pace the GLVC

Zane Clodfelter

While attendance numbers have dropped at the Physical Activities Center (PAC) for men’s basketball games, Southern Indiana still remains one of the leaders in Division II attendance coming into this season.

In 2012-2013, USI averaged 1,520 fans in 15 regular season games at the PAC. The biggest crowd at the 2,600-seat venue was during the team’s final Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) match-up against Kentucky Wesleyan, with 2,400 fans in attendance.

“We have a very loyal fan base,” USI Sports Information Director Ray Simmons said. “(Men’s Head Coach) Rodney  has always said how amazing it is what we have here.”

Leading Division II in attendance numbers in 2012-2013 was Northern State (N.D.) which averaged 3,199 fans. USI came in 27th among the rankings. The university ranked second among GLVC attendance numbers, falling only behind Drury, who came in at 11th with an average of 1,889 fans per game.

“Most schools around the country don’t have that booster club system that is a loyal base of people who come to see the games, who are there for you thick and thin,” Simmons said. “We are blessed to have a loyal following of fans.”

Men’s Head Coach Watson said enthusiastic crowds help provide extra energy to his players. Watson mentioned the KWC game last season, when the students had the “Silent Night” promotion and stayed silent before erupting on the tenth point. Watson still credits the fans for his team’s turnaround following a sluggish start to the game.

“That energy that our students brought on the tenth point won the game for us, and I’ve never said that before,” Watson said. “As a fan, you can’t make shots, but I’ve never seen a game change like it did in that game. The kids ignited us. We never looked back.”

While USI’s attendance figures rank among the best out of the 265 basketball playing Division II schools, numbers over the last decade have dropped on an annual basis. Before the PAC was remodeled with a new wooden floor and new seats, the university averaged 2,308 fans per game in 2004-2005. Prior to the renovation, the PAC held 3,300 fans. A year after the renovation, which lowered the seating capacity by 700, the average attendance was down to 2,153 in 2006-2007.

Other factors might have had an impact, too. USI had games televised on the now defunct News 25 Sports Channel. Despite the channel being off the air for quite some time, Simmons said fans still call in asking when the Eagles will be on television.

“I have one person who calls me every other month asking when USI is going to be back on television,” Simmons said.

While the attendance numbers have dropped, USI’s performance on the court hasn’t. Year in and year out, men’s basketball has been a contender in not only the GLVC but on the national level as well.

“I think it’s really important that we continue to do our part for student life,” Watson said. “I think that is what Dr. Rice had in mind, it seemed to be really important to him that we had a strong athletic program.”

Watson said coaching in a place where basketball is important makes the environment that much better, compared to traveling to places where his team plays in arenas that are largely empty.

“I think we are really fortunate to be in a community where basketball is a big deal. It’s part of our culture, it’s a part of a family’s free time,” Watson said. “The basketball culture really isn’t that way in every place or in our league.”

Which is why, despite the drop in attendance, the Eagles still have one of the toughest venues for opposing teams in all of Division II basketball.