It is that time of year again for Arkansas Razorbacks' basketball to get started and Bud Walton Arena is going to be rocking.
Or is it?
The young Ball Hawgs played their Red and White game, and their first exhibition game of the season over the past week and half. To say attendance was poor would be like saying the financial market is in a little bit of trouble.
Just a mere couple hundred fans sprinkled the stadium for the Red and White game. This was an opportunity for fans to interact with the players, get autographs, and the event was free! Not to mention that the Red & White game used to pack the house every year.
On Monday, night at the first exhibition game of the season against Dillard, the attendance according to ArkansasRazorbacks.com official stats was 2,278.
Just for comparison, the Razorbacks' first exhibition game last season according to the University attracted 4,500 and the second exhibition game last season drew 12,100. Here is a link to a list of last years stats . Even last year there was a decline in attendance.
From 1994 to 2001 the Hogs packed Bud Walton for every game. The Hogs couldn't have played a pick up game on a blacktop in the nineties with less attendance than these two turnouts so far this season.
What are these numbers telling us?
Coach John Pelphrey was asked following Monday night's exhibition with Dillard about the attendance, and he responded by saying the fans are great. He also stated that because of the early start this year to basketball and football being full swing that people may have their attention elsewhere right now.
If you ask me, Pelphrey is being kind in his statements. The Razorbacks are a young team made up of a large group of newcomers, a few upperclassmen, and key second year returning players. A young bunch of Hogs that need fan support. The lack of fan support makes Coach Pelphrey's job in recruiting and building the program much harder.
I have made it clear in previous articles that I believe Pelphrey has the Razorback program on the rise. Click here to read more on my opinion.
The Razorbacks have some great young talent on the floor, and are recruiting extremely hard for the 2010 and 2011 classes. I believe fan support is instrumental in helping the program turn the corner. A corner Hog fans want the program to turn. Right?
If so, fans need to look at the past two turnouts as unacceptable, and come out and change those attendance numbers. Even if the Hogs were playing the school for the blind the turnout is unacceptable.
Fans of the Hogs like to call Bud Walton Arena the "Basketball Palace of the Midwest." It is the 5th largest on-campus basketball facility in the nation. Razorback fans pride themselves on supporting the Hogs through thick and thin. I have to ask, has something hit the fan?
For the past 15 years the Razorbacks have ranked in the top 15 in attendance in the nation. That's great, but let me tell you why that is not impressive.
From 1994-2001 the Hogs basketball team was always in the top 10 and mainly in the top five in attendance for those years. When you have the fifth largest facility in the nation, it would seem logical that you should be in the top 10 in attendance.
Many will argue that the Hogs were a top team in the nation at that time so fan support was at an all time high. Is that admitting to being fair weather fans? Just understand that on a bad day the football team still brings out over 50,000-plus fans. Over 30,000 fans on an ugly day came out for the Razorback football Red and White game, and that was down big from last year.
Bud Walton Arena during its early years was one of the most feared places to play in the nation. Many experts still mention BWA when speaking of tough places to play, but every year more and more of these experts are dropping the "Basketball Palace of the Midwest" off of their lists.
Who does that fall on? The "fans."
"Fans" of the Hogs have become more and more into making statements about their disappointment in a loss or poor season with not attending games or canceling their season tickets. Really?
Seems a little bit like being bitter about a broken relationship. Not so much following the definition of being a fan. I will spare you the literal dictionary reference of fan for now, but I reserve the right to drop it on you at a later date if "fans" out there do not get the message.
Attending games and supporting the Hogs for better or worse is what it takes to be a top program. Players want to play in exciting atmospheres. Being able to hear every squeak of the sneakers in the first two games the Hogs have put on for the fans for the 2009-10 season is not exciting.
Pelphrey and his staff have put in a lot of hard work with the current players and in recruiting. Sometimes a team needs that sixth man to push them on the hardwood.
There have been good teams turned great just by the support of their fans. Not everyone is going to be happy with a loss, or with an off-the-court incident, or critical play gone wrong.
There is no shame in being upset or frustrated with your team, but simply not showing up and not supporting the team? Shame on you.
In their second exhibition game of the year the Razorbacks' shrugged off a slow first half to blowout the LeMoyne-Owen Magicians 102-69.
The Razorbacks held a two point half time lead and played poor defense in the first half, but in the second half the Magicians ran out of magic.
Rotnei Clarke, Courtney Fortson, and Marshawn Powell lead the way tonight. Razorbacks star Michael Washington had a relatively quiet night.
One of the more interesting moments came when Brandon Mitchell the freshman quarterback came into the game for the Razorbacks. Mitchell who committed as a sophomore to play basketball for John Brady and LSU before Brady's firing looks to be a great basketball talent.
The news came out this week that Mitchell would play basketball for Arkansas this season, while still working with the football team.
Mitchell rallied off 8 quick points, with his most exciting coming off of a steal he took the other way and finished off with a two hand slam.
The Magicians played Memphis earlier in the week and lost by 30 points.
Arkansas appeared to click for the first time this preseason in the final twenty minutes of play, which could be a good sign of things to come this season.
On a more negative note the attendance in this second exhibition game was 3,233. Maybe the score in the paper tomorrow will peak some interest in Razorback basketball fans.
I have received some feedback from fans that the opponent, off-the-court issues, and last years poor performance has turned them away. To that I say the Hogs deserve support no matter who they are playing. There are a large group of players on this team that have been model citizens, and have worked extremely hard to be a much improved team this year.
Enough with the excuses. You are a fan or you are not.