Ron Morris

USC Basketball: Getting that empty feeling

Small crowds show loyalty is waning for USC basketball fans

rmorris@thestate.comFebruary 7, 2012 

ANTHONY DAVIS showed Saturday why he might be the best player in college basketball. As if he did not do enough damage with his 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots in Kentucky’s rout of South Carolina, Davis saved his biggest dagger for the postgame.

“It felt like a home game,” Davis said of the atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena. “There was so much blue in the crowd.”

Kentucky fans, decked out in their customary royal blue, lined the court before tipoff to get an up-close look at their idols. Then, when the game began, they seized control of the arena with occasional “Go Big Blue!” chants that drowned out the USC pep band.

USC officials had to be embarrassed that their fans were outnumbered. Unfortunately for USC, Ohio State fans were equally as strong earlier in the season and had the audacity to shout “O-H-I-O” as the letters rotated around the arena.

USC fans are staying away in droves this season, and if their intent is to show contempt for Darrin Horn and his program, they have succeeded. That is quite all right. No fan should have to pay for what he or she deems an inferior product.

My problem with USC fans jumping off the men’s basketball ship is that these same fans have long claimed to be among the best in college athletics. Sorry, good fans remain loyal to their team(s) through the worst of the times.

Take it from Dennis Powell, a Columbia businessman and former USC player during the Frank McGuire era, who has suffered as much as any fan in the lean years since.

“I’m a loyalist. I’m going to support the team 100 percent,” Powell says. “If you’re a fan of University of South Carolina athletics, try to do the best you can to support the program.”

The USC fan base rightfully gained a national reputation for remaining loyal to its football team when the program hit rock bottom. The mantra among national TV analysts is that USC “sold out every football game” during the 1-10 and 0-11 seasons of 1998 and 1999.

Only two of the 12 home games during those two seasons actually were played to a capacity crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. Even so, to post an average attendance of 76,500 over those two seasons of lousy football is darned impressive.

There exists any number of reasons why attendance has dipped for USC men’s basketball games. It likely has to do, in part, with a sluggish economy. No doubt the seat-licensing program introduced for football and men’s basketball has cut into crowds. Both sports long ago ceased being family affordable entertainment.

So, it was no surprise that Kentucky fans accounted for a significant portion of Saturday’s announced crowd of 16,527. The only announced crowds greater than 10,000 this season were for home games against Ohio State and Florida. No remaining home game is likely to draw that kind of crowd.

For the season, USC is averaging 9,056 fans, which represents the number of tickets sold for each game. The actual number of fans in the seats is far less, mostly because season-ticket holders are staying home. A few early season home games saw fewer than 4,000 in the seats.

Compare those numbers to a season ago when USC drew 10,000 fans for 10 home games. The average announced attendance for all home games was 10,427.

Sagging attendance in men’s basketball is not a problem unique to USC. Even rabid Duke students have not claimed their full allotment of men’s basketball tickets over the past few seasons at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Last week’s North Carolina-Wake Forest game in Winston-Salem was not sold out for the first time in recent memory.

Wake Forest is suffering through the same kind of season as USC — a team struggling through its youthfulness. Not surprisingly in the UNC-Wake game, more Tar Heels fans were in attendance than Wake Forest fans on the Demon Deacons’ home court.

It is no secret that fans love a winner. The Ohio State and Kentucky teams that came to Columbia are national title contenders. Followers of those teams likely came from all over the state and from Charlotte for the chance to see their teams.

The movie “Field of Dreams” might have coined the phrase, “Build it and they will come,” but the real mantra for all of sports is “Win and they will come.” Since USC is not winning — a third consecutive losing season is in the works — fans obviously have become disenchanted with the program.

There are all kinds of additional reasons for USC fans to drop their support of the men’s basketball program. Nearly every game is televised, and many are held on school nights. Perhaps fans have been spoiled by the success of the football and baseball programs and are throwing their full support behind those teams.

Whatever the reason, if the USC fan base wants to retain its claim of being among the best and most loyal in college athletics, it needs to better support the men’s basketball program in these difficult times.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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