The attendance might grow, but will it be enough?

When Baylor became a member of the Big 12, it was way behind many of the schools who had more successful football teams with national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, and rich tradtions. Baylor began to build in an effort to catch up. A new basketball arena, a state of the art baseball facility, and then, under the watch of their 3rd football coach since becoming a member of the Big 12, a dressing room second to none in size, were built. That was only a small part of the problem.

No, this is not an indictment of Baylor's football fans. Nor, is it an attack on all those fans who seem to think only they know what's best for Baylor's football program. Hopefully, it will serve as a sort of "wake-up" call because frankly, most of the fans are MIA's. The biggest problem is that they always have been, it's even worse now, and there are no true indicators that it will change, no matter what steps the administration takes in bringing in a new football coach.

Last weekend, I was in Austin at the Baylor vs. Texas football game. I think it was during a timeout late into the second quarter that I took notice. I first noticed how small the Baylor crowd was with respect to those fans wearing burnt orange. The band sat, rather stood on the lower section of seats, and the overlow had them also taking up two rows of the upper section. The bulk of the Baylor faithful, spotted occasionally with burnt orange, sat behind the band. There were also some fans wearing gold barely visible as dots in masses of burnt orange. I would estimate, including the band, that Baylor was represented by about 400 fans. In other words, had the band, nor a single fan gone to Austin, there still would have been 80,000+ at the game. The game pitted one of the top teams in the country against one of the bottom teams in the country. It was televised live, via the "pay-per-view" audience, and yet, there would have still been more than 80,000 Texas fans at the game.

I compared that with a mental picture of Floyd Casey stadium each and every time Texas plays there. The ratio between the number of Texas fans to Baylor fans is much smaller than what I was witnessing from my endzone seat at DKR Memorial. What makes it worse is that I can remember when we sat at the south end, behind our own team from about the 18-yard line down to the endzone when playing Texas in Austin and we might even have been 4,000 fans strong. In fact, that was the case in 1989 when we beat them in Austin for the first time in forever, 50-7. Yep we had about 4,000 fans on hand for that one . . . and they had about 45,000.

Now, am I saying we're supposed to be able to compete with the attendance figures of the Texas' and the Oklahoma's and the Texas Aggies' and the Nebraska's out there? Certainly not. We don't have 70,000, 80,000, and 90,000 capacity stadiums, so the infrastructure is not in place to compete with the crowds. Our smallish stadium holds 50,000 when jam-packed. However, when 30% of that figure is made up by the visiting team, the message is loud and clear. The biggest problem with that is that, win or lose, it's always been that way at Baylor.

Let me illustrate what I mean. Let's look at the 1980 season, one that as far as wins and losses go, was Baylor's best. We began that season picked among the favorites to win the SWC. We started out like no other Baylor team in history by winning our first seven games. We had won six games in a row several times, but never seven, and never the first seven in a row. Never, in our history, had we ever began a season such as that. However, San Jose State was coming to town. Now, before the game, no one knew Baylor was going to be upset, 30-22, so that was a non-factor. However, San Jose, coming from California, was not expected to bring just a whole bunch of fans with them, and they probably numbered about 3,000. One would think, with that kind of momentum going and the game not being televised, we would pack the stadium. Would you believe 35,000? Do the math - only about 32,000 of the Baylor faithful would buy a ticket and take the time to watch their undefeated Baylor Bears play a football game. Oh, and least you ask, the weather was perfect - I know, because I was there.

Now, when Texas came to town that season, they were ranked #20 in the country and we were ranked #11. We sold out - 48,500 was the sell-out figure, but 12,500 of those were wearing burnt orange. We could still only muster about 36,000 fans for what had been developing into a rivalry rather than a long losing streak, as had been the case prior to 1974 when we ended the long losing streak. Arkansas came the week after San Jose State, and traveling well, as they always do, brought about 10,000 fans wearing red and calling the pigs. We were 7-1, and undefeated in conference play, but only about 36,000 of our fans showed up, for a crowd of 46,000.

Just for another comparison, let's look for a second at Oklahoma. Now, I am sure no one will disagree that OU's first couple of years in the Big 12 saw them with some of their weakest teams, wins-and-losses-wise. They were really bad in 1997, and we even had a chance to beat them if we could have connected on a two-point conversion, and it was all in front of 68,578.

So, for whatever reason, the most fans that we can seem to get into Baylor's home field maximizes at about 36,000, give or take 1,000, and that's only for when a major opponent with drawing power comes to town. Evidently, unless we're in the midst of a championship year or a banner year, or two (like '86 and '87), we're not a big draw unto our own.

Here's another flash. The ticket to the game last weekend was tagged at $45.00. Against one of the worst two teams in the Big 12? Against one of the worst teams in the country, according to some of its own fans? You betcha, and there were more than 80,000. Baylor's season tickets are discounted to $20 each. When we start laying out the dough for a new coach and pay that $1-Million+ price tag, that's going bye-bye. How do you expect a 100% or more increase in the cost of season tickets and an overall increase in "per-game" tickets is going to affect attendance by the Baylor "unfaithful?" Will winning cure everything. If it didn't in the past, when the price of tickets was much lower, why would it now?

Now, someone is surely going to jump up and say that there are more alums now and that with the increased numbers that attendance, if we could start winning, would increase dramatically. Prove it! What makes you think that more of those alums are not interested in football, and for that fact, never have been. If you attended Baylor back in the late 60's and then mid-70's like I did, you remember that there was a much bigger representation of students and parents of students at the games. I remember a game in Waco in 1975 against Arkansas I attended as a student. There were 47,200 at that game, and the student section went from the wall to mid-field. We were 3-6-2 that year, but it didn't matter. Care to compare that with a comparable conference game in the past 10 years? The past 15? Call it video games, call it "something else to do," or just call it apathy, but whatever it is, is just hiring the right coach going to change it all?

Let's look at one final aspect and then I'll call it quits. This past year, the Baylor Bear Foundation presented a check to the athletic department for something like 3.2 million dollars for the scholarship fund. At Baylor, 100% of the money donated goes into the scholarship fund. At places like Texas, that is not true - it can be used for a multitude of things. Just SE of Houston, which lies in Harris county is Fort Bend county. The money from that one county that went into the Longhorn Foundation was 7.3 million dollars. Kind of puts it all into perspective, doesn't it?

Sounds hopeless, doesn't it? There is only one answer. It's not going to matter who the football coach is. It's not going to matter who the athletic director is. In order for Baylor to get where some of you fans are insisting they go, then it's going to take a complete makeover. A complete makeover of the fan base. The fan base is going to have to grow, get more involved, raise more money, spend more money, and do something it has been, evidently, unwilling or unable to do in it's history - we're going to have to get out and support our own football team, everytime, all the time, win or lose, and we're going to have to be consistent about it.

Good luck - we're all going to need it, and more.


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