It's way early in his tenure but so far we're bullish over here on Dino Babers. The new Syracuse Orange football coach is still in his employment infancy but we've liked what we've seen. He nailed the intro. He's talked up an offensive ideaology so perfect and so obvious for the Carrier Dome that it's a little disconcerting no one's done it before. Experts have sung his praises. He knows what he's doing on the recruiting trail. He knows how to play the game. He handled his business in front of Orange fans. He's even openly-challenged referees to keep up with him. He's already got a t-shirt for a reason.
All in all, Babers is saying all of the right things. He's even been upfront about the fact that he considers the 2016 season to be Part I in a two-part experience that culminates in 2017. In other words, he's honest about the fact that Syracuse is probably not going to turn it around in 2016, at least not in a huge way. And so he's made it clear that he needs one thing from Orange fans. Faith.
And therein lies his problem, because Syracuse fans are not fans of faith.
We're not gonna make promises, but I'll tell you this...if you have faith...belief with evidence, belief of the things unseen. If you have faith, and if you fill this place to rock & roll, we will give you something you've never seen before.
"This is a move of faith, belief without evidence. I really believe that we're going to start something that people are going to be talking about for a long, long time."
We were having a lengthy discussion in the TNIAAM Slack room over the weekend about SU fans and attendance. Extrapolating on my piece about women's basketball, we were trying to break down how it makes sense that SU fans can pack any arena in the nation for a men's basketball game but would struggle to fill a classroom for a women's basketball game. Even for football, you can't say that the same 25,000 people are attending both games because that doesn't explain why basketball draws huge on the road but football doesn't. Clearly there's a disconnect.
Of course, it comes back to winning. We expect the SU men's basketball team to win and to be competitive. Because we have the evidence going in, we attend the games. We have no basis for that expectation when it comes to football (right now). But we do have 40 years of Jim Boeheim Basketball to confirm our faith in that program. To paraphrase Brent Axe, you can tell us what you're going to do all you like but if you haven't done it, we're not actually sold.
Just look at the way men's basketball attendance dipped when Mike Hopkins took over. Our expectations were lessened just by the removal of Jim Boeheim from the equation. The evidence was taken away and we reacted accordingly.
That's how little faith we as a fanbase have.
I do not say any of this to attack. I'm merely stating it based on what I can see and what I know about SU attendance woes. We are results-oriented and we need to see those results before we decide it's worth showing up. Is it how it should be? Probably not? But Syracuse fans, especially Syracuse football fans, have had their share of reboots, restarts and rebuilds in the last 15 years. While Coach Babers might be saying all the right things and doing all the right things, we're simply too jaded a fanbase to invest in the product until we already know it'll turn a profit.
Attendance for the 2016 season-opener should be...fine. It'll get the New Coach Bump but that'll be offset by the fact that we're playing Colgate. The Orange will win (God willing) and more fans will show up the next time. If Babers can put together the decent showing we're expecting, the fans will come in 2017. Especially if he pulls a Marrone and overperforms in Year Two.
But as for asking Syracuse fans to have faith and "belief without evidence," that's just not how we roll. Don't know if it's a Central New Yorker mentality, Northeastern cynicism, results-driven belief systems, or perhaps all three. But that's what we do. Or don't do, as the case may be.