“The ACC has built a remarkable conference based on equal treatment and high academic and athletic expectations. We have both.”
These were the words of President Donna E. Shalala on June 30, 2003, the date the University of Miami accepted a bid to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC has a long history of strong athletics, and perhaps even stronger fan support. While Miami has been an asset to the ACC academically, the fan base the school has brought can only be described as anemic.
Eleven of 12 ACC schools ranked in the top 80 in attendance for the men’s basketball 2005-2006 season. Guess which school was not on the list? The U. Did Miami even come near its ACC counterparts? Not even close. Clemson has the next lowest total, with an average attendance of 7,086. Miami’s bottom-dwelling total: 4,265. So Miami was almost 3,000 fans behind the next closest school.
The genesis of this commentary was my recent coverage of a women’s basketball game against Georgia Tech. As I was sitting in press row, about 15 minutes before tip-off, I glanced across the court to the student section. I saw a lot of empty bleachers and nothing else. The band was there, of course, but no other students. I followed the development of the crowd, and by the tip, the number inched up to six. And that’s where it stopped.
Six students is despicable. Any fan total that can be counted using only both hands is completely unacceptable. Now I admit I don’t make it to every game; no one should be expected to. But we, as a fan base, can’t even scrape together double digits? And what I observed that night carries over into other sports. Unless it’s Duke, it’s almost impossible to fill the BankUnited Center for men’s basketball. And even when it is Duke, the fan support is timid and withheld.
I come from Maryland, where Terrapin basketball is a religion. Noise is something to be proud of-the more of it, the better. Jumping, hooting and hollering is expected, not an anomaly. At a Miami game, unless you’re next to “Haith’s Faithful,” doing such things would earn the evilest of eyes from the “fans” seated around you. Seated. You don’t sit during an ACC basketball game! If Maryland’s fans were observing us, they’d likely boo and throw something.
And I’m not just criticizing students, either. The community around the campus is vital for support, and quite frankly, local fans are not sharing the responsibility. Many people forget this school didn’t have men’s college basketball from 1972 to 1985. The reason for the drop? Lack of attendance
Even the most popular of sports at Miami, football, has fan issues. The Orange Bowl, the most historic stadium in all of college football (I’m sure I’ll hear a lot for this, but I stand behind the claim), deserves to be filled for every game. However, it’s not. According to the NCAA’s accumulated attendance report, released Jan. 24, Miami’s average home attendance falls behind such football powerhouses as Brigham Young, Purdue and Texas-El Paso. This is a program that has won five national championships in 25 years, and we can’t fill the stadium? FSU and Florida don’t have that problem, both ranking amongst the top 20. Miami bottoms out at 51.
Miami’s fans have long had a reputation of being fair-weather, not truly passionate about their team. I’ve long defended the fan base, knowing there are some truly hardcore fans on this campus. But when I look up, and see six fans in the student section, or seated fans watching college basketball, or a half-empty Orange Bowl, the point becomes harder and harder to defend. As fans, we’re not living up to the ACC’s reputation. We’re not worthy.
Matthew Bunch may be contacted at email@example.com.