COLUMN: Football attendance begins to drop again
Winning football, comfortable weather and good company are the three most popular reasons that fans are drawn to college football games.
Even when your team is having an off-year – or three – a Homecoming game will bring hype and attention to your team.
Campus takes on an added buzz the week leading up to the game, and students partake in week-long events up until the game, building school spirit, and with it, team morale.
But what happened?
Central Michigan athletics reported an attendance count of 14,081 after Saturday’s 41-30 loss to Ball State – a 56-degree, partly cloudy day at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Many argued last season that the tradition of football in Mount Pleasant wasn’t what it used to be with only two Saturday home games on schedule.
This year, that number has more than doubled, with five Saturday games at Kelly/Shorts.
On a day when alumni are expected to flock to the stadium to cheer on the Chippewas, attendance almost didn’t break the 14,000 mark.
The last time CMU prevailed on Homecoming was in 2009 when quarterback Dan LeFevour threw three touchdowns in a 56-8 clobbering of Eastern Michigan. That was also the coldest of the past four – 47 degrees.
Kelly/Shorts held 26,730 spectators for that game.
The following year, Miami scored on a game-winning 71-yard pass from Zac Dysert to Any Cruse with 19 seconds to go before overtime. Kelly/Shorts Stadium held 24,761 people that day on a 56-degree sunny day.
In 2011, Eastern Michigan almost mirrored Miami, scoring on a 30-yard run by Alex Gillett as the clock read 37 seconds remaining in 2011. A crowd of 17,158 watched that game on a blustery 54-degree day.
Notice a pattern?
While CMU did go through a change in how it estimates attendance numbers, the fact of the matter remains the same; attendance at Kelly/Shorts isn’t what it used to be.
Saturday marked the third-straight year the Chippewas lost their Homecoming game. Unfortunately, it didn’t come down to the final possession like the last two, both ending on last-minute touchdowns.
The game seemed almost out of reach as early as halftime, when CMU trailed 24-10 and never cut the lead to less than two scores again.
Even with the weather better than it has been in past years and alumni coming to support the Chippewas, the football team was not able to bring in 15,000 followers.
It’s only fair to mention CMU wasn’t the only cherished Michigan team playing at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The annual rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State aired on Big Ten Network at the same time, forcing football fans to choose between games.
CMU isn’t to blame for this scheduling conflict, because it scheduled its Homecoming game before the in-state rivalry set its kickoff time, but the attendance numbers at Kelly/Shorts Stadium Saturday made a point.
The football program continues to lose its fan base and will continue to do so until it can learn to win games. Many who attend this university are CMU students first but not necessarily CMU football fans first.
Through the first four home games this season, CMU looks to sit safely above the NCAA Division I required 15,000 average attendance mark.
CMU is averaging a crowd of 19,883 this season, strongly due to the 35,127 that filled the stadium for the “Clash at Kelly Shorts” on Sept. 8.
The final three home games of the season will be played in harsher weather, and it might be pretty interesting to see who shows.