Don't worry, this isn't a SHAME ON YOU-type post. The guy who lives 3,000 miles away realizes he's in no position to chastise anyone for missing Syracuse Orange games (even though I'm sure I've done it once or ten times). And I know it's a bit like something I've written before on the topic of Syracuse women's basketball so I'll try not to overlap too much.
But last night's big Senior Night victory got me thinking again about Coach Q's program, the cavernous Carrier Dome it plays in and severe lack of interest that most Orange fans show it.
Syracuse women's basketball has never been better than it is right now. It's on the verge of something special. You can just tell. They've got a few NCAA Tournaments under their belt and they're getting closer and closer to breaking through to the second weekend. It may happen this year. Maybe not. Either way, while they're no UConn, Syracuse is officially a legitimate team in the world of women's hoops.
Last night, the nationally-ranked Orange beat the No. 10 team in the nation on a night all about celebrating the team's seniors and in the midst of a season in which the team may be in line for a five- or six-seed in the NCAA Tournament and attendance was...1,532 people.
Now I know you might be thinking "that's not bad all things considered." HOLD ON.
- Last year, SU averaged 649 fans per game. That was not only the lowest number in the entire ACC but also the lowest number of ANY Power Five Conference school. This year's numbers don't look to be much different.
- The men's program draws roughly 44 times as much as the women's team last year, which is the biggest gap between two programs in the nation.
- SU pulled in 1,585 for the Duke game this year but other big games didn't fair nearly as well. Nationally-ranked Arizona State brought in 546 and rival Louisville attracted 549.
Those first two really drive home the strangeness of it to me. Because we know Orange fans turn out in droves for men's basketball. You would think even if there isn't a strong corallary between the two, at least SOME of those people would stick around for women's games. And yet even the worst-performing teams in the ACC draw better than our perennial NCAA Tournament team. It's almost as if SU fans go out of their way not to care.
So, again, this isn't about crapping on SU fans. Leave that aside. The question is, how do they start caring? How do SU fans who don't consider women's games start to get interested? How do you get someone to sign up for a ticket package when they don't go to one game now? How do you create a fanbase?
I already know the answer to my question is "win important games." I say it all the time with SU Football. Winning solves everything. You want people to stop complaining about uniforms and coachspeak and off-field stuff? Win games. That's it. Crisis over. So I know the simplest solution is for SU women's basketball to get a win they can hang their hat on. That's either a big NCAA Tournament run that signals they've broken through to the next level. Or it's a signature win during the regular season over someone like UConn (we can dream), South Carolina, Baylor or Notre Dame.
There's tons of other things SU could do. I still don't understand why they even bother charging for tickets at this point. Or at the very least why not just dump promotions on the women's program right and left. Just get butts in the Dome and let people experience the game (and spend money). There's probably also a prime opportunity for Otto's Army or a group of SU students to make their mark by going to games, dressing up and having some fun. Creativity attracts interest. There's a million SU fans trying to stand out at men's games. WBB needs some mascots.
Not to mention that this team is led by an absolute character in Coach Quentin Hillsman. He's intense. He's got fashion sense. He's a master Tweeter. He's Boeheimesque and yet also very different. Plus, you know, he wins. He's the kind of personality that, based on previous knowledge, Orange fans should gravitate towards.
I still think there's some kind of psychological analysis that someone smarter than me needs to do on why SU fans atively repel WBB in spite of everything. What that speaks to about Central New York or SU students, I don't quite know. But considering the comparative numbers to even the worst of the worst WBB programs out there, there's something in the water. I just hope eventually Coach Q's team are able to get everyone's attention to the point where they cannot be denied.