Attendance figures make fun reading
By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
June 28, 2004
You may have noticed a story in your favorite newspaper last week about the sources of income for Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi's athletic programs.
To no one's surprise, football was the big financial daddy. Also to no one's surprise, the Rebels and the Bulldogs live in a different monetary world than the Golden Eagles. They sell more tickets at higher prices, and their conference payouts for television, bowl games and such dwarfs what USM receives. But all three still have to fund non-income-producing sports and, frankly, I don't see how Southern Miss does it and stays as competitive as they do.
But no matter the football dollars, with tuition and other costs going up each year, the income from basketball and baseball have become more important than ever. For Mississippi's Big Three, that has become a problem.
The NCAA has released the top 50 basketball attendance figures for 2003-2004, and no in-state school made the list.
Kentucky's Wildcats led the collegiate world with an average attendance of 22,710. That in a gym that seats 23,000. You can't get much closer to filling every seat than that. They played 15 home games, drawing 295,227 over the season.
Ole Miss played 19 home games, and while I don't have the official figures, I do know there were as many, or more, games under 4,000 as there were over that figure. Let's be kind and say a 4,000 average. That's a total less than 80,000, or about 30 percent of Kentucky's numbers. Don't think of it as anything other than dollars. That's not a level financial playing field.
Granted Ole Miss' Tad Smith Coliseum seats only 8,000, and Oxford is not exactly the size of Lexington. But George Washington and those other guys on our country's money don't know the difference when they're counted.
The situation in Hattiesburg was even worse. I doubt if the Golden Eagles averaged 3,000 paid per game. As it is in football, the school that needed the bucks the most got the least.
And friends, that's what winning is all about giving the fans a competitive reason they would want to come to the games.
I know Mississippi State fans are saying, "How about us? We draw real well."
No, you draw better than Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi but you don't draw well enough. You did not make the NCAA's top 50 list, which was cut off at an average of 9,332. Such schools as Xavier, Wichita State, UTEP and Texas Tech made it, but not the Bulldogs.
Officially, Humphrey Coliseum holds 10,500. With a winning team and 16 home games, you'd expect to see MSU recognized, but my guess is they averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 better than the others, but still not in the league with the 50 best.
Here are the other SEC schools who did make it, their position in the top 50 and their average attendance at home games.
Arkansas No. 13 (14,792); Tennessee No. 21 (13,426); South Carolina No. 29 (12,046); Vanderbilt No. 33 (11,312); Florida No. 36 (11,047); Alabama No. 48 (9,683); LSU No. 49 (9,355).
Counting Kentucky, eight of the 12 SEC schools drew well enough for recognition by the NCAA. Overall, the conference totaled 2,230,546, for an average of 11,439 per game. That was the highest total in the nation, but only third in average behind the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As for Conference USA, they finished eighth in average attendance with 8,351. That was behind the top three mentioned above and the Big 12 (4th), Mountain West (5th), Big East (6th) and Pacific 10 (7th). The total for all games in the 14 school league, including Southern Miss, was 1,862,308.
Overall, basketball attendance reached an all-time high nationwide last year. Division I teams sold 25,545,328 tickets last season, a half million increase over the previous year.
In women's basketball, Tennessee led the country with an average of 14,403. Other SEC schools on the list included Kentucky at No. 17 (5,182); Georgia at No. 25 (4,067); Arkansas at No. 29 (3,523); LSU at No. 30 (3,511) and Vanderbilt at No. 33 (3,168).
No Mississippi school made that list either.
The SEC was third behind the Big 12 and the Big Ten in average attendance for women's basketball with 3,945. The leader, the Big 12, averaged 5,381. Conference USA ranked 11th. Their average women's attendance was 1,262.
Now you know what winning is all about. To the school's fans, it's pride. To the coaches, it's keeping their jobs. But to the athletic departments, it's paying their bills.