The Reality of College Basketball Attendance in the Deep South – From the Bird’s Nest
Every basketball season there is a conversation that inevitably arises concerning attendance at UL basketball games.
And the blame game begins.
The University doesn’t promote it enough. The team doesn’t win enough games early in the season. The students don’t care enough. The Cajundome is too big. The Sun Belt Conference is to blame. The non conference schedule isn’t good enough.
My hypothesis is simple.
Unless you’re in a major conference, college basketball in the Deep South has ceased to be a big deal.
I looked at the latest NCAA attendance numbers. The Cajuns are 120th in the nation in attendance out of 351 Division I schools. (source: NCAA)
Then I looked at the Deep South. I drew a line from North Carolina (a basketball crazy state) to Kentucky (ditto), into Arkansas and Oklahoma. Then I drew a line south through Texas, stopping West of Fort Worth and San Antonio. Then I excluded teams from the major conferences in that footprint (Big 12, SEC, ACC and AAC.)
You won’t find a single Mid-major school in the Deep South ranked in the Top 100 in attendance. There are five schools (Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, UAB, Davidson and UNC-Wilmington) who have higher average attendance. Note that three of the five schools are in North Carolina.
So, this isn’t a Ragin’ Cajun thing.
The reality of the Deep South is this: Until the bowl season ends, folks just don’t care much about college basketball.
Wanna talk about the schedule? OK, let’s do that.
The Cajuns played a pair of non-Division I games this year, which is a bone of contention among some die-hard Cajuns fans. Bring in better competition and more folks will show up.
Or will they?
In their games against non D-1 competition this year, the Cajuns averaged 3,148 fans. Let’s say, for sake of argument, the Cajuns had played Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. I chose those two schools because Cajun fans have a history with them. And, let’s say, (generously) that the two games each drew 5,000 fans. With those numbers, the Cajuns would move ahead of UNC-W and Davidson, but would still be behind the other three. They still would not be in the top 100 in attendance. I say “generously” because the Cajuns haven’t drawn 5,000 for a non conference foe in a game prior to Jan 1 in fifteen years.
That includes Tennessee, who had an All-American in Chris Lofton and was ranked in the top ten. And, it includes nationally ranked Nevada. And, games against non-league traditional rivals such as McNeese, Lamar, UNO and Louisiana Tech.
So, no, it doesn’t really matter who you play before football season ends. Fans aren’t coming. And, they haven’t been coming for about fifteen years, which include four seasons where the Cajuns were good enough to be in the NCAA tournament, two years when they were in the NIT and two years when they were in the CIT.
When you get down to it, the Cajuns’ attendance is actually better than just about all of their peers.
It is what it is.