LISTENING TO SPORTS-TALK radio, many people seem to think that the high number of USC men’s basketball home games that have been televised has hurt attendance. The Gamecocks’ first four home games were shown on SportSouth, and there are more to come.
There might be a number of reasons fans have stayed away from Colonial Life Arena, but television is not one of them.
The poor economy is one consideration. I suspect, though, that fans still have a hangover from the Dave Odom era, which produced two NIT titles and not much else. The past two season were losing ones and, under Odom, the Gamecocks had an abysmal record in the SEC.
Because many games are played on weeknights, basketball requires an extra commitment from fans. The only way that commitment is going to come is for new coach Darrin Horn to build a consistent winner. Horn has gotten off to a good start by leading USC to a 6-1 record.
But let's face it, most of those victories have not come against marquee programs. After being burned the past several years, Gamecocks fans have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. If Horn's team keeps winning as it gets into the SEC schedule, you can bet the number of spectators will grow.
In sports, winning is a sure-fire cure for just about any ill. Rather than watch on television, people will want to be there to experience the excitement.
When Frank McGuire arrived at USC in 1964, he inherited a program that was in shambles. By year three, his Gamecocks were winning and becoming competitive in the ACC. Admittedly, it was no big deal to sell out the old USC Field House, which held 3,500.
By the time the 11,666-seat Carolina Coliseum opened for the 1968-69 season, South Carolina and its fans were ready. The Gamecocks were on their way to becoming one of the nation's elite programs, and fans were packing the place. Even when games were televised, it had no effect on attendance.
During the 1969-70 season, when the Gamecocks were ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls, practically every game was televised. The following season, every home game and several road games were televised by WIS-TV, and yet USC continued to set attendance records. Tickets were hard to come by, so television allowed those fans who were unable to buy a ticket the chance to see McGuire's squad in action.
It remained that way for several years, even after South Carolina left the ACC. For example, on Jan. 9, 1972, in the first college basketball game played in Columbia on a Sunday, the Gamecocks battled Marquette in a contest that was televised by NBC, with Dick Enberg doing play-by-play. Still, TV did not keep the crowd away.
Flash forward to 1997, when coach Eddie Fogler's best USC team took on Kentucky in the Coliseum in front of ESPN's cameras. There was an overflow crowd.
History shows attendance falls off only when USC is losing more games that it is winning, so don’t blame television for the current crowds.
Horn has brought a much-needed youthful dose of enthusiasm to Gamecocks basketball. It will take time, but more fans eventually will embrace him and his team.
Keep winning and they will come — TV or no TV.