Mississippi State notched its 12th win of the season Saturday with an exciting 81-72 overtime win over Texas A&M. For those of you not keeping up, that’s two more wins than all of last year and we’re only halfway through the month of January. As I watched the game, I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more fans at the Hump. I decided to dive into that subject and present my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, full disclosure time. I was not at the game. This is busy season in my line of work, and I had a pressing matter to deal with yesterday that precluded me from attending. I offer that not as an excuse, but rather to say that I am including myself in the universe of fans to which I am directing these comments.
This team deserves better fan support than it has gotten thus far. True, they are a long way from being a legitimate NCAA tournament contender, but they play with great effort, they are fundamentally sound on defense, and they are much improved from last year. According to the official box score, yesterday’s attendance was 7,073. I’m not sure what methodology was used to derive than number, but I will guarantee you there were not 7,073 people in the Hump yesterday. If you watched the game, either in person or on TV, you know what I am talking about. There were empty seats galore.
In last week’s win over Ole Miss, the announced crowd was 8,841. The Hump’s capacity is 10,500. Do you think 85% of the seats were occupied in that game? I certainly don’t. True, the spring semester did not start back until the following Monday which had an adverse affect on the size of the student crowd, but this wasn’t just any game. It was Ole Miss. The place should have been packed. Why wasn’t it?
I’ve got a few theories on this that I’d like to explore with you. And I’d really like your input on this, so feel free to light up the comment section below with your own theories. First of all, the team was pretty bad last year. Winning is what ultimately drives fan enthusiasm and losing a home SEC game by 40 points as we did last year against Vanderbilt doesn’t bode well for attendance. In the minds of some fans, we’re still just as bad as we were last year and I can point to a couple of tweets I received Saturday as proof of that.
Also, there seems to be a decline in enthusiasm among our student body as it pertains to attending sporting events, particularly basketball. This is hardly unique to Mississippi State. It is occurring on a nationwide level at NCAA Division I universities in all sports, and it does not bode well for college athletics. I realize I attended college in a much different era, but when I was in school, I don’t think I missed but maybe a handful of home basketball games during my entire five years in college. It was cheap entertainment and frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do.
Today is much different. There are many other options available to students now, and apparently students are availing themselves of those other options. Perhaps in the case of MSU basketball, student attendance will return to the levels of a few years ago when the win totals return to those levels. But while student attendance has been disappointing, the real problem lies elsewhere and that’s what I want to emphasize.
It has become quite apparent to me that fans have been slow to rally around Coach Ray and this team because there is still much anger and resentment within a portion of our fan base about the way Rick Stansbury’s tenure ended. Full disclosure time again. I was a big supporter of Coach Stansbury. I lived in Starkville during the first half of the 2000′s and my wife and I were personally acquainted with Rick & Meo. I do not think he should have been dismissed. The situation was entirely mishandled. But that’s not the point of this piece. I’ll save my thoughts on that matter for another day. Rather, I’d like to promote the idea that it is time for ALL of our fans to move forward and get behind this team and Coach Ray.
Even the most loyal Stansbury defender (and I count myself in that category) has to admit that Rick Ray had nothing to do with Stansbury’s departure. It was a done deal before he came on the scene. So why take it out on him? And these players? They certainly had no part in what happened earlier. They are wearing the maroon and white and representing our university with class and dignity. Don’t they deserve our full support? Especially when they are working hard and getting better by the day.
This team is much improved over last year. They play hard and they compete. They have a great shot at a winning season and who knows? Maybe they can string together enough wins to earn an NIT bid. Perhaps that’s a bit optimistic, but one thing is for sure: a loud and packed Humphrey Coliseum can help them snag a home win or two they might not otherwise get.
At the end of the day, there is nothing or no one bigger than Mississippi State University - not the athletic director, not any coach, current or past, or any group of fans. The successes of Rick Stansbury are many and I’ll debate anyone who would try to diminish what he accomplished during his tenure. My challenge is to those who are withholding their support of the basketball team in reaction to the Stansbury situation. It’s time to move forward and support this team with your presence at Humphrey Coliseum. That’s what I plan to do. I hope you will join me.