News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 28, 2012

FROM THE PRESSBOX: Lack of attendance could hurt ISU's chances of home playoff game

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Over the years, I’ve ranted and raved about the apathy Indiana State’s fans and the Terre Haute community has demonstrated time and again when it comes to lack of attendance at ISU athletic events.

Given a shockingly poor turnout — official attendance 5,224 — for ISU’s 45-14 victory over South Dakota on Saturday, I was ready to blast off again.

But there’s no need to take my word for it. ISU’s attendance woes are going to have real consequences if fans continue to stay home in droves as they did for Saturday’s game.

At 7-2 and with a good chance to gain the MVFC’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, ISU has an excellent shot to not only make the playoffs, but to host a playoff game.

Three years after staking the nation’s longest losing streak in the heart and sending it to its grave, ISU could host playoff football at Memorial Stadium. Its remarkable.

Except apathy has consequences. Given the stunning amount of empty seats, I asked ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman about ISU’s plans to possibly host a FCS playoff game. If you care at all about ISU athletics, his response should send chills down your spine.

“Administratively, we have to consider [hosting a game]. We have to do our homework. But I will tell you, the disappointment of the crowd today is figuring into whether we can legitimately bid on this host opportunity,” Prettyman said.

“A lot more decisions will be made after next week’s game [against Illinois State] if we can move forward with it. But the decision hasn’t been made if we will actually bid,” he added.

So there you have it. ISU might not be able to host a playoff game because its fans don’t show up. Apathy has consequences.

Why might ISU not be able to host? ISU has to bid to host a playoff game. It’s a modest $20,000 bid to be a first round host, according to ISU assistant athletic director John Sherman, but tickets have to be sold individually for the playoff game.

If ISU only draws 5,000 to a regular season game that’s part of its season-ticket package, how can ISU expect a playoff game that’s sold on short notice to be economically viable?

Apathy has consequences. It clearly frustrated ISU’s powers-that-be after Saturday’s win.

“I’m not sure what else we have to do. Our staff has done a good job promoting on television, radio, newspaper. We’ve tried to do some promotions. We had military day. We fully anticipated with the successes we had that people would show up and be supportive. I’m not sure what more I can ask of my coach and players. It’s an enigma to me. I don’t get it,” Prettyman said.

How bad was it? No section was more than half-full. The official attendance number aside, no more than a third of Memorial Stadium’s 12,000 seats were occupied.

By halftime, a significant amount of those fans were gone. By the end of the game, when the Sycamore players serenaded the crowd with the ISU fight song, there were more voices singing than there were ears in the grandstand to hear them.

The lack of support was, frankly, insulting, but it wasn’t unanticipated.

“We told the team during our Friday team meeting that our crowd is fickle. I don’t know what it is. They have one of the best teams they’ve ever had here. They’ve got a great bunch of kids who do community service. I love the people who are supporting us, but I can’t put my finger on why we can’t get more people out there. There should have been 8,000-10,000 people out there with what’s at stake,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book as to why people don’t come — from the long years of losing to the historic ISU-Terre Haute divide.

Then there’s the always popular weekly mantra of “[fill in the blank] is going on and it drove attendance down” — be it high school football, youth football, state cross country, the Covered Bridge Festival, IU/Purdue/Notre Dame playing so-and-so … you get the drift.

Call me crazy, but it seems that every city has “things going on”. Maybe a fact-finding mission needs to be commissioned to study the cities that have “things going on” that manage to find a way to get butts in seats for their football teams.

ISU has first place to itself in the MVFC. It has an all-time great running back and several NFL prospects. Ticket prices are reasonable. What more do you want?

It might not ever get any better than this. And still, the ISU and Terre Haute communities won’t show up in force.

Because of that, a deserving Sycamores team might not get a chance to play the home playoff football game they richly deserve.

Apathy has consequences. It’s too bad ISU’s players might ultimately pay the price.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.