Athletics assured to hit 15,000 football attendance benchmark; might require sponsors to buy tickets

Bethany Walter/Staff Photographer Only several rows of fans sit before the second quarter of Saturdays football game against Akron at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The estimated attendance of the game was 10,172.

Derek van der Merwe said he is confident Central Michigan football will be in compliance with Division I attendance requirements despite an announced attendance of just 10,172 at the football game Saturday.

“We are going to be compliant,” the Deputy Director of Athletics said.  “There are a couple of different ways to reach for compliance and we are going to use one of the two mechanisms to be compliant.”

When submitting its report to the NCAA at the end of the season, CMU athletics can use either a headcount system or a paid ticket system. Whatever system it uses, the average attendance number must be at or above 15,000.

“If you use the paid system, you can make sure you don’t end up below 15,000,” van der Merwe said.  “Other groups can buy tickets; sponsors can buy tickets that help you get to that provision.  That’s how other schools in the (Mid-American) Conference have done it.”

After next Saturday’s home game against Western Michigan, van der Merwe said CMU athletics will gain a better understanding of which method it might use to comply.

“The Western game is a big game for us,” he said.  “We always have very strong attendance at Western, so once we see where we are at after Western week, we can figure out how things are going to line up going into the last game of the season.”

CMU athletics announces the estimated attendance after every game, but that number includes student groups (band, cheerleaders, working staff and possibly players), which cannot be used when submitting its final attendance numbers to the NCAA.

So far this season, the average estimated attendance is 17,791.  Last year, the average estimated attendance was 15,291, but CMU athletics reported to the NCAA that it was 10,466 — well below the Division I benchmark needed once every two years.

But beginning this year, CMU Athletics is using a new method to estimate attendance.  It is using scanners for all tickets.

“We are continuing to test the scanning,” van der Merwe said.  “Obviously, it’s going to provide greater accuracy.”

However, van der Merwe said just how much more accurate the scanner readings are will not be determined until after the season.

“Our estimates are still preliminary estimates until we sit down with the auditors,” he said.  “I think we are trying to be as careful as possible, making sure they are as close as possible to what the audit numbers will be.”

With seven home games on the schedule this season including matchups against Michigan State, Navy and WMU, attendance was expected to see a major increase.

But after a crowd of 35,127 Sept. 8 against MSU, CMU has failed to hit the 16,000 mark in any of the other four home games thus far.

According to Mike Zimmerman, a CMU alumnus and season ticket holder, the primary reason for the lack of fans is the team’s performance on the field.

“I think they are tired of seeing the team lose,” Zimmerman said.  “Its been a struggle.  You get used to winning for a few years and the program looked to be going in the right direction, and now after back-to-back 3-9 seasons, and this year not looking much better, people are getting frustrated.”

Freshman Mitchell Schrader said he believes the team’s performance plays a role for students deciding to come to the game, but the main factor is the weather.

“I think the weather really affected this game (Akron),” Schrader said.  “It’s pretty chilly out.  If it was nice, I think a lot more people would be out here.”

And the small crowds do not just affect the CMU athletics program.

Zimmerman said it must be deflating for the players to look up in the stands and see the abundant number of vacant seats.

“It’s got to be depressing for the players when none of the students show up to watch,” he said.  “I mean only three rows of the student section were filled today.  That’s got to be at least a little bit discouraging.”


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