Monday, November 30, 2009

If you’re reading this, my NIT-picking over meager crowds is probably not aimed at you

Hofstra Arena, pictured above during the final two rounds of the Preseason NIT.

If the last 16 years have taught me anything, it’s that no amount of wailing and complaining about the lack of fan support for Hofstra athletics is going to change a thing. Better to just accept reality and enjoy the fact that Flying Dutch athletics is our little secret. Those who are missing out don’t deserve to be a part of it.

Yet even though I should know better, it’s nonetheless impossible sometimes to conceal my frustrations with Dutch Nation (snort)—like last week, when “announced crowds” of 737 and 783 turned out for the two consolation round games of the NIT at Hofstra Arena.

The attendance was lame and embarrassing and none of the old stand-by excuses are acceptable. Ten years ago, the easy thing to do would have been to blame the media for continually giving Hofstra short shrift in its coverage. But the mass media as we know it is dead of self-inflicted wounds, which is why schools like Hofstra have committed so many resources to getting the message out themselves. Nobody’s buying Newsday to see when the Dutchmen are playing.

And Hofstra did plenty to promote these games, neither of which were officially listed on the schedule. But it was long assumed Hofstra would host the final two rounds as long as it won a game during the first two rounds in Connecticut. The news became official Nov. 18, two days before a free—FREE!!!—home game against Farmingdale at which NIT tickets could be purchased.

Ticket prices were incredibly reasonable—$15 or $10 for two games, both nights. The games took place the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, not Thanksgiving eve or Thanksgiving night. The NIT championship round didn’t begin until Wednesday. The Rangers were the only local team playing a home game and competing for the entertainment dollar Monday or Tuesday.

And still…the games drew the two leanest back-to-back crowds in the nearly decade-long history of the Arena. The only smaller crowd to turn out to the Arena for a men’s basketball game was the gathering of 527 that showed up during a blizzard to watch the Dutchmen play Delaware Jan. 22, 2005.

In defense of Long Island, it wasn’t the only locale to greet the NIT with a big ol’ yawn. The other two schools to host consolation round games, Western Kentucky and Texas Christian, attracted meager crowds as well: WKU drew 2,127 and 2,269 to its two games while TCU had 887 and 741 fannies in the seats.

But neither Western Kentucky nor TCU entered the consolation round having already played two nationally ranked teams. I would have understood the lack of interest if the Dutchmen got smoked by UConn, but their valiant effort and near-upset of the Huskies—as well as their season-opening loss at top-ranked Kansas—should have generated plenty of interest in the program.

Since it didn’t, it’s fair to wonder what can get people to the Arena. Obviously, an NCAA Tournament berth would do wonders—or would it? The average attendance at the Arena went from 3,330 in 2000-01, when Hofstra won the America East and the automatic NCAA berth for a second straight season, to 2,053 by 2002-03.

A conference change? The A-10 isn’t exactly bursting with natural rivals, either.

Regardless, Hofstra’s marriage of convenience with the CAA and inability to become a regular NCAA Tournament team shouldn’t diminish how unfortunate it is that the Dutchmen have toiled in anonymity for so long.

Do you guys know how good you have it here on Long Island? Hofstra may not be in the so-called big time, but it has had big time players and coaches for 15 years now. Flying Dutchmen alumni have gone on to coach in the Final Four, win an NBA championship and participate in the Olympics. Since the turn of the century, it has featured the best players and most successful teams of any metro area college program.

Jay Wright put this program on the map, but there’s a very good chance that every time you walk into Hofstra Arena, you’re watching Tom Pecora take another tiny step towards history. There was no keeping Wright here for the long-term, which was understood and accepted by everyone, but Pecora is the local guy who is a few years older than Wright, was never on the Wright-esque fast track and views this as his destination job.

“This is a lot better than I thought I’d ever do,” Pecora told Mike Litos in his book Cinderella.

There’s no guarantees he’ll be here forever, but you can feel pretty secure in assuming he’ll someday be Hofstra’s all-time leader in victories. And he’ll have accomplished the feat presiding over a program that tries to win the right way, not by any way possible.

His second season at the helm was sacrificed when the University suspended stars Rick Apodaca and Wendell Gibson were suspended 14 games apiece for failing drug tests. Two years later, Kenny Adeleke was kicked off the team for repeated behavioral issues, even though his presence probably would have lifted the Dutchmen into the NCAA Tournament. There are no such worries with the current centerpiece of the program, Charles Jenkins, who carries himself as well off the court as he plays on it.

Unfortunately, there’s no real urgency to get your butts in the seats for tonight’s game against Fairfield, since, with or without you, the administration is committed to men’s basketball as the flagship spot at the university. Hofstra will keep playing top-notch competition and the school will continue to pour money into marketing endeavors (seriously, though, I hope it didn’t take more than one lunch meeting to come up with “Roar With Us!”) in hopes of raising its profile.

But someday, there will be a new administration here, and maybe it will be less willing to invest in a program that just doesn’t register with the locals no matter how well it performs. And if that day ever comes, and the Dutchmen are no longer as viable as they are right now, you’ll know who to blame: Everyone who isn’t around you tonight.

Email Jerry at defiantlydutch@yahoo.com or follow Defiantly Dutch at http://twitter.com/defiantlydutch.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I stumbled on your site due to all the action today with the football team.. I had no idea the basketball attendance had gotten that bad. I was a student when they moved into the new arena and jay wright was still the coach. Do things pick up in jan-feb? Most people don't give a crap about college b-ball this early in the season -- even at UConn! (they are a "national" program and barely sold half the tix for their game against BU last night in hartford)
btw--is there a way for people to post comments on your stories on facebook? you might grab some more followers that way..