Where are the fans?

Zane Clodfelter

A few weeks ago, the city of Evansville welcomed the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) tournament to the Ford Center for the first time in the building’s brief two-year history. I was excited, recalling the times I went to the GLVC tournament as a kid when it was hosted at Roberts Stadium.

I remember seeing the stands full of USI fans making the most of the opportunity to watch their team play in a venue that had a capacity four times the size of the Physical Activities Center (PAC). It was an opportunity to show not only the community, but also the conference, how great of a fan base the university had.

Eagles fans turned out in droves in 2001, accounting for a majority of the GLVC-record audience of 9,627 that watched the conference championship game at Roberts.

The Eagles were successful, and the fans supported them.

Although the Eagles have gone through some changes and transition between coaches and players, the program has been a consistent winner. They have won 20 games a season in all but one of the last 20 years, which in most cases was accompanied by a berth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.

The only difference between then and now? A fan base and enthusiasm for athletics that is now matched by local high schools, compared to its former status as one of the best in all of Division II athletics.

The USI turnout was an embarrassment at the Ford Center. The official attendance numbers for the USI games looked as if they counted imaginary fans who were disused as empty seats.

The best session attendance figure – 1,496. This amount of people wouldn’t even come close to filling the PAC (2,500 seats), let alone a venue that seats 10,000 basketball fans.

This isn’t the first time that attendance has been at what I would consider embarrassing levels. RedZone crowds this year were non-existent aside from the KWC ‘Silent Night’ game, and the only regulars who did attend were members of fraternities and sororities that were required to go.

USI basketball attendance as a whole is dwindling, noticeable gaps in seating areas were prominent during crucial conference matchups that were historically sellouts in the past.

Regular fans have an excuse: they have graduated or have moved away. Maybe ticket prices aren’t in their budget or they would rather listen on radio. But current students have no excuse not to be there.

Tickets are free for games at the PAC and were only $2 to attend USI’s opening GLVC tournament game at the Ford Center. Try and count on two hands things that are less than $2 in today’s society.

Even worse, students who actually showed up to the Ford Center to watch the Eagles in the tournament didn’t even have an organized cheering section where they stood together. A handful of students stood silently for the most part along the baseline closest to the Lewis bench, while others were scattered around the main seating area.

The atmosphere was that of a morgue, silent with only occasional clapping when the Eagles had a dazzling play. If our fans show no emotion or energy for a team that was highly ranked and regarded all season long in Division II athletics, what is going to happen if athletics on campus hits a lull?

I have a lot of respect for the coaches and players that represent USI on a variety of playing fields and surfaces. They carry the USI banner proudly and give all of us a reason to be proud of the university.

USI athletic teams are doing their part. Now it’s time for the fans to do their part, simply by showing up and rooting for our school. There are no valid excuses why we can’t support our teams. Trust me, I’ve heard them all.

Tickets are free, and the offense that Rodney Watson runs creates a fun up-tempo style that runs the scoreboard up into the eighties. It’s exciting basketball – now, if only the students would notice.