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COLUMN: Attendance story a reflection of CMU football, not student participation

A view of the east side of Kelly/Shorts Stadium with a minute left in the first quarter.

Head coach John Bonamego said it best — the Central Michigan football team needs to give fans something to watch. 

Last weekend, I filed a story in Central Michigan Life that included photos showing the amount of fans in attendance at the game against rival Western Michigan. The photos, some taken before the severe weather evacuation and some take after, showed empty stands although the athletics department reported that attendance for the game was 10,097 people.

Reactions to that story were mixed. Some readers felt the story was a shot at the fans for not showing up to the Western game. 

Taking a shot at the fans was certainly not the purpose. My reporter instincts kicked in as I looked out from the press box – a great vantage point that allows you to see the full stadium. I took panoramic photos of Kelly/Shorts to show empty seats and how misleading the reported attendance numbers are. 

I did not suggest that more students should show up. I am on the same page as the students. I understand. There isn't much incentive to watch the football team, even when it's "free." That is why most elect to go to the tailgate then start the trek back to their apartments and dorm rooms when the game starts. 

The Western Michigan game was windy, extremely cold and it started raining/hailing just after kickoff. Just to top it off, the best rivalry game in the state of Michigan was also taking place just over an hour south from Mount Pleasant in East Lansing. 

Many people elected to either stay home and watch the University of Michigan versus Michigan State game or make the trip to MSU's campus. CMU football's watchability cannot compare to U-M and MSU — this is the same reason that the athletics department was playing the U-M and MSU game in the press box, even after the CMU game started. 

This is not exclusively a CMU problem. It's the exact same problem that many other trivial Mid-American Conference schools face. They simply cannot compete with prolific Power Five teams in their region. 

The reported attendance at the CMU-WMU game was 10,097 people. By hand, I counted 255 people on the east side of the stadium at the end of the first quarter. 

The attendance they report is much, much different than just fans in seats. They count the hundreds of promotional tickets they give away in sponsorships. They count Bonamego. They count the band. They count everyone. 

Division I schools must average 15,000 people in attendance to keep their DI status, but the NCAA never enforces these rules. As a formality, CMU submits different, fabricated numbers that were conducted via internal audit. 

Universities can choose to submit “actual” or “paid” attendance numbers, according to NCAA bylaws. In paid attendance, the universities get to count each ticket sold or student who actually attends the game. In actual attendance, the university only gets to count individuals who physically entered the stadium by keeping tickets, counting on turnstiles or counting manually. 

Clearly, CMU opts for the paid attendance numbers

No matter the number, it is clear that students have lost faith in their football team. Even when the team is on track to make a bowl game, not many people attend the games — students or alumni. Football is simply out of favor. 

Meanwhile, the Central Michigan football program is chasing a football culture that is impossible to reach in Mount Pleasant. 

CMU will never pack the crowds like U-M and Michigan State, but until something changes, it will continue to mimic bigger programs with overpriced contracts and extravagant stadium additions.