Miller: Hawkeye Fans Bring the Passion

So much for Iowa not having a passion for its basketball program, right? If the last two weeks sent any sort of message about Hawkeye Hoops, it was that the fan base cares a great deal about it. That being said, some folks have questioned Iowa's passion for basketball in recent weeks, and have called it a football school. Is it? How can you tell? Does it matter? We talk about that & more...

So much for Iowa not having a passion for its basketball program, right?

If the last two weeks sent any sort of message about Hawkeye Hoops, it was that the fan base cares a great deal about it.

The current version of the HawkeyeNation.com message boards were launched back in late January, during the heart of basketball season, so what I am about to point out is not scientific.

But the number of posts on the football boards since then has been outpaced by posts on the basketball forum by a ratio of better than 5 to 1.

And when I consider that the activity in the members only HN Clubhouse forum has been heavy on hoops for the last month, what you see is pure and simply a passion for Iowa Basketball.

I certainly didn't buy into the recent claims that Iowa was lacking in a passion for basketball.

Is it a football school? Is it a basketball school? How do you even begin to decide such a thing?

Is Michigan State a football school, or a basketball school?

I am sure that most of you just thought ‘basketball school'. The Spartan football team drew nearly 497,000 fans for its seven home football games in 2006, and they didn't make it to a bowl game. Tom Izzo's Spartans drew 281,000 fans for their 19 home basketball games.

How about Indiana? They had just one sellout in basketball this year, and drew 247,000 or so fans to Assembly Hall. The Hoosier football program, a moribund program at that, drew 231,443 fans. That difference is basically one home basketball game.

How about our friends to the east, the Fighting Illini? They drew just over 304,000 fans to their football games last year while 283,000 fans packed into Assembly Hall to watch Bruce Weber's cagers.

Those three schools, more than any others in the Big Ten right now, are likely identified as basketball schools.

Here's something for you to consider; nearly 290,000 fans have attended Wisconsin home hockey games this year!! That's a better turnstile number than for all but two Big Ten basketball programs; Ohio State and Wisconsin. I haven't added up all of the numbers, but one might say that Badger fans attend more collegiate sporting events than any other Big Ten school other than Ohio State.

I guess I would say that nearly every school in the Big Ten conference is a football school, if revenues and fans in the stands are the measuring stick. That of course isn't the only measuring stick. National identity has to be factored in, and no one would argue with a straight face that the Spartans, Hoosiers and Illini are known for their football.

So there is room to argue with me here, and I am not even saying I would argue with that.

But for most athletic departments in high major conferences, football is king cash. There is nothing wrong with being considered a ‘football school'. It doesn't mean that your fans cannot be passionate about both football and basketball, or wrestling in the case of Iowa, or hockey in the case of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State (the Spartans are in this year's Frozen Four, and Wisconsin was last year's national champion).

I will say this; passion doesn't mean you have to pay to go to the games. You can be passionate and choose to not attend, based on your feelings surrounding the state of a program. I think that is what Iowa has dealt with in men's basketball for in recent years. I also think that Iowa will see a nice bump in attendance next year compared to this year.

Iowa sold out four Big Ten games this year, and its league home average was 13,634, or about 2,000 shy of a sellout. It's season home gate average was 12,196.

I suspect that next year's Big Ten home gate average will be closer to 14,500, with overall attendance above 13,000. That would be progress, and a move in the right direction. Todd Lickliter has some work to do, he is not inheriting a program that is on the same footing as what Steve Alford inherited.

Alford took over a program that was coming off of 16 NCAA tournaments in the 21 years before he arrived. When Alford took over the Iowa program, Iowa had been to the second highest number of NCAA tournaments among any of its Big Ten bretheren.

Lickliter takes over a program that has missed five of the last eight NCAA tournaments, but still has a history good enough for the third most trips to the NCAA tourney among Big Ten teams.

One more note on how football is a cash king.

New Mexico basketball attendance for this year was 12,853 fans per game in 18 games. That's a total of 231,346 fans in the stands this year. The football team, in seven home games, drew 200,431 fans. Hoops gets the nod in New Mexico as far as attendance goes, and probably as far as passion goes.

But Coach Alford might want to hold back on the talk about athletic departments being football or basketball schools; when the numbers are as similar as they are at New Mexico, which program pays the others bills?

That's too close to call.

Jon Miller is the Founder & Publisher of HawkeyeNation.com


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