Years ago, the NCAA made an effort to distinguish between big time football programs and the not-so-big- time programs. They forcibly split Division I into Division I-A and Division I-AA.
As the years passed, more criteria were put in place to keep those divisions separated. To play at the DI-A level, schools had to have a stadium that seated 30,000. (This rule was an absolute disaster as struggling programs further injured their football programs by adding gross amounts of overflow end zone seating that would remain empty and drag down their efforts to build a fan base.)
The NCAA never acknowledged what an absolute disaster the 30,000 rule was for its borderline DI-A members but soon felt pressure from the BCS elites to put more teeth into their rules.
In this way, a 15,000 average attendance criteria replaced the 30,000 seat criteria as the stadium criteria for inclusion in the FBS ranks (formerly DI-A).
By 2005, there was an obvious problem. It was apparent that a lot of schools were not meeting the standard. The NCAA had no stomach for the lawsuits downgrading that many programs would create in the environment of the day.
They changed the criteria to be either a two-year rolling 15,000 average or one season of averaging 15,000 tickets sold.
There has been a lot of talk in favor of raising that number to 17,000, so for the purpose of this article, our Attendance Hall of Shame will be schools that averaged less than 17,000 last year.
With no further ado, the 17 FBS football programs that drew an average of less than 17,000 fans to see their games this year.
The first team on our list—the 104th team in the nation based on attendance in 2009—was New Mexico State. Their stadium averaged a 54.41 percent fill rate, good for 16,511 fans per their six home games.
In 2007, the Regents for New Mexico State put together a 10 year plan. It was a business model to build up fan attendance and corporate support for NMSU athletics.
It is apparently based on the football program becoming a money maker.
I'd love to see that plan.
Hell, I'd love to write that plan.
Having not seen it, I wonder if there is anything of worth in the plan, or if it will just end up cutting years off the life expectancy of AD McKinley Boston before he gets away.
The Aggies did probably take the right first step in dumping football coach Hal Mumme. He had not proved any ability to win in southern New Mexico, had an unpleasant controversy engulf the school on his watch, and had been there long enough to grow stale with the fans.
Whether the addition of a defensive coordinator from a California-based Pac 10 powerhouse is the correct second step in rural New Mexico remains to be seen. No doubt he has shown some coaching chops, but can he recruit southern Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, and Mexico?
I probably would have gone after someone on the Texas Tech staff, former Texas Tech Coach Spike Dykes's son Skip Dykes, or UTEP's Mike Price's son Eric Price, as their background and experience covers the school's recruiting footprint.
Toledo fans have to be saying, "Curse you Eastern Michigan!"
The MAC had Central Michigan, which was clearly the cream of the conference crop, a collection of mediocre schools, and four truly abysmal teams, EMU being the worst of that final lot.
That is a big part of why so many MAC teams made the FBS Attendance Hall of Shame.
Without the game against EMU, which only drew 9,967 Rocket fans, Todedo isn't on this list.
Alas it was not to be, so No. 105 in the nation in attendance went to Toledo which filled 62.04 percent of their seats for an average of 16,285 fans per game in their five home games.
One gets the feeling our No. 106 team, Utah State, is heading in the right direction on the field in spite of a 4-8 season.
With the team's record in mind, their results in the stands are respectable. A 62.60 percent fill rate good for an average attendance of 15,971 fans per game in their five home games is not bad for a four-win team in a very spread out conference with few natural rivals.
They have a pretty solid stadium in Romney Stadium.
If Boise State is picked off by the Mountain West Conference as seems likely to occur, I would not be surprised to see teams like Utah State and Idaho permanently join the middle tier of the WAC, if not the top tier, in the next decade.
After the planned demolition of the north stands at Buffalo, UB should seriously consider naming the something—the new center, the stadium, whatever—after former QB Drew Willy (pictured).
The guy played just as much of a role as former head coach Turner Gill in making Buffalo a legit contender in the MAC and spiking UB attendance up to MAC levels.
Without him, Buffalo may be sliding backwards again. They finished 107th this year filling 55.01 percent of their seats for a season average of 15,960 in six games.
Still one has to be excited by the fact that the administration is taking the wrecking ball to the northern stands to make space for a new indoor training facility as part of their UB2020 initiative. That will undo about 40 percent of the damage poorly thought out expansion at gunpoint did to their ability to build a fan base.
(I still think the southern bleachers should be reduced as well, but a 24,000 seat stadium will serve UB much better than their current 29,000-31,000 seat monstrosity.)
That may end up helping their attendance grow as much as Drew Willy did.
The Golden Flashes finished 108th out of the 120 teams playing at the FBS level in spite of finishing with a 5-7 record.
On the field they did a pretty good job replacing departed QB Julian Edelman.
They averaged filling 62.05 percent of their stadium capacity, drawing 15,512 fans per game at their six home games.
Kent State is lucky enough to have already been featured in my "Fix your dang stadium already" series of articles, so I won't spend much time on analysis of IMO, as much of the issue is the stadium. After you read that article, an internal logic will emerge out of the numbers.
The stadium is capping their ability to improve. It needs further upgrades.
I worry about the program at San Jose State. They are this year's 109th team in terms of average attendance, filling 50.38 percent of their seats in their six home games for an average of 15,344 fans per game.
For years after the demise of the Big West football conference, San Jose State football teetered on the verge of collapse with minimal fan interest.
Dick Tomey came in and applied electrodes to the program making it a middle of the WAC pack school and exciting the fans by winning some games.
Last year the Tomey magic didn't work, almost certainly because NCAA APR penalties capped SJSU at offering 67 scholarships instead of the 85 their competitors offered. That is quite a talent disadvantage.
Tomey decided to retire.
This year they are turning to Duke's Defensive Coordinator. He is a former Parcells guy.
I still have questions about the hire. How is he going to recruit in California? What contacts does he have?
I hope at least he can fix the academics (which seems to have been a big part of why he was hired)—SJSU has been whacked pretty hard by the NCAA APR and can only offer 75 this year—before the lack of talent gets him fired and/or kills the program.
The new coach would be wise to pull in SJSU alumni Steve DeBerg in to coach QBs. A guy like DeBerg with NFL skins could allow SJSU to land a series of difference makers at QB.
This program needs the athletic department and rich and influential alumni like Jeff Garcia and Dick Vermeil to step up and help this program out of the rut it has been in for 20 years.
This is a program that has needed fairly major stadium work for over 20 years. That is the anchor that keeps dragging this program back to instability.
Guys like Vermeil and Garcia could silence dissension on campus by providing the leadership in securing the funds to do a proper upgrade on Spartan Stadium. It would not take a ton of money to fix what ails Spartan Stadium.
Spartan Stadium is due to be featured soon in my "Fix your danged stadium already!" series that advocates cost effective fixes for stadium issues that drag down fan attendance.
Florida Atlantic finished 110th in attendance this year with an average of 15,326 fans attending each of their five home games. FAU had a healthy 74.94 percent capacity fill rate.
Howard Schnellenberger's Owls had a bad season and that hurt attendance a bit. Playing in the Sun Belt hurts more.
Consider the Owl's home games. They hosted teams from Wyoming, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana.
Still in their current stadium, there isn't the capacity to hold many more than FAU's fans anyway.
They have temporary stadium problems playing in a 20K stadium 14 miles from campus, which is why there is a pretty decent argument that it makes some sense to only play five home games a year looking instead for road game payouts as they wait for the new 30,000 seat on-campus stadium to be built.
FAU should be off this list next year.
The 111th football program at the FBS level in terms of attendance was Northern Illinois. They had a 48.03 percent fill rate yielding and average of 14,889 fans per game to their six home games.
They have a nice stadium but had their attendance dragged down by three dog MAC games in a row at home vs. 3-9 Akron, 0-12 Eastern Michigan, and 2-10 Ball State.
The Huskies' athletic department wisely schedules one home game against a nearby FCS school from the Missouri Valley Conference each year to be a good draw and drag up their home attendance. That is a very smart move by a conference outlier.
One wonders if N. Illinois might do a lot better to insist they open the season with home games against perennial MAC doormats to try to generate early season fan excitement over a football game to trump ennui over playing MAC dregs.
0-12 is really all you you need to know about the 112th team in FBS, the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.
New Coach Willie Taggart (pictured above in his playing days) should be a good fit.
WKU is a few years of talent acquisition away from being a pretty solid FBS team. Their stadium, while somewhat small with a capacity of 22,000, can hold most crowds a visiting Sun Belt or MAC fan base can deliver.
The Hilltoppers filled 60.01 percent of their capacity, averaging 14,103 fans to see their six home games and should do better when the team becomes competitive in the Sun Belt.
Our No. 113 Bowling Green has some problems. They have a visually pretty stadium that favors Miami Ohio's Yager Stadium or N. Illinois' Huskies Stadium. With a MAC sized capacity of just under 24,000, one might think the turnout would be pretty good.
Not the case. Bowling Green filled only 58.51 percent of their seats for an average of 14,044 fans per game at six home games at Doyt L. Perry Stadium—in spite of being a winning team.
The problem appears to be a design issue and is, to a degree, unfixable without an expensive redesign or a stadium replacement.
Simply put, there is just not enough rise on their grandstands. The net result is that fans sitting in the upper deck sit quite a distance from the field, making sitting in those seats somewhat undesirable.
Their best bet, beyond building better replacement grandstands, is probably to covert some rows to chair backed seats each year to try to build up a season ticket base. Eventually, the whole stadium will be chair backed. The view of the game may still be lousy at the top but at least the seats would eventually be comfortable making the game experience much better.
For number 114, we return to the Sun Belt for the UL-Monroe Warhawks. The Warhawks are a tiny public school (enrollment 8000) that really should still be playing at the FCS level, and it is apparent in their attendance numbers.
Their stadium is actually a decent design, if a little unbalanced. Considering how well schools travel fans in the region, the fact that it is overbuilt for the ULM fanbase is forgivable.
They averaged 13,889 fans per game, filling 45.65 percent of their seats in five home games.
ULM has an understandable scheduling philosopy. They play four games at home and four away vs. Sun Belt members, one home game against a cheap FCS school and three away bodybag games against FBS schools to cover budgetary shortfalls.
While they shouldn't be at the FBS levels, one has to admire the thought put into their work.
Still there was no reason to play a poor FCS draw, Texas Southern, and draw 9000, dragging down the season average and profitability when ULM could play Grambling or Southern each year and sell out a game, dragging attendance up.
While certainly the loss of star receiver Jarrett Dillard hurt a lot on the field and at the box office, there is a lot more to Rice's turnout than that.
With an undergraduate enrollment of 3000, a total enrollment of 6000, an FBS program at a large public school and an NFL team within five Miles, our No. 115 Rice faces a constant uphill battle to compete at the FBS level.
Rice filled 28.83 percent of their far-too-large stadium for an average turnout of 13,552 fans per game in their six home games.
Rice Boosters dramatically reduced the capacity of Rice Stadium before to good effect. As I argued in my Rice entry in my "Fix your danged stadium already" series, Rice Boosters need to do it again.
There is no reason for a university of 6000 would need a 47,000 seat stadium, especially as any game likely to draw that much would be played down the street at Reliant Stadium.
Take that place down to 30,000 like SMU's stadium and Rice football will see much better results.
Our next team on the list may shock some as they were a high profile bowl team this year with a likely future NFL QB in Nathan Enderle, but really their being on the list shouldn't shock anyone.
No. 116 in average attendance this year were the Idaho Vandals who had a very healthy 78.41 percent fill rate in six home games. The problem is that only equated to 13,552 fans per game.
Their home stadium, the Kibbie Dome, only seats 16,000. That is far too small for an FBS school that needs to average 15,000 a year.
Your attendance at a small school is going to fluctuate from game to game. You have to be able to draw large crowds to your good games to offset the bad draws.
Today the Kibbie Dome does not allow for that.
Funding was approved in 2007 to do a "dig down," lowering the field to allow more seating to be added, bringing capacity to 20,000. This will put fans in the front seats closer to the action and should dramatically improve the Vandals's ability to hit 15,000.
Look for Idaho to not totally escape the list anytime soon, but they will move much further up the list when this expansion is complete.
The 117th ranked team in 2009, the Miami (OH) Redhawks filled only 48.63 percent of their seats, averaging 11,810 at their five home games.
(It should be noted that they opened the season in Cincinnati against Kentucky in a neutral site game, and that was a very big draw.)
Miami fans have gotten used to winning. Much of the low turnout can be attributed to the facts that the team was very bad this year and that the schedule pushed the first home conference game to the end of October when the team was already 0-7. If they had played a home conference game in September, they would have at least been much higher on this list.
A lot of Miami fans blame former coach Shane Montgomery for "wrecking the program" in his time at Miami. They feel it will take Mike Haywood a while to build the talent base back up.
It is likely for this school more so than most on this list, there will be massive fluctuations based on how competitive the team is each season.
Stadium-wise they appear to be in pretty good shape. I have a lot of love for Miami's Yeager Stadium. It is a stadium that schools wanting to succeed at the FBS level should really take a good look at if they have to build a stadium from scratch.
It has some issues I would have changed though. The student grandstand should match the alumni-side in height, and it could have been built at a steeper angle to put students in the upper decks closer to the field, but conceptually it is very sound.
The end zone seating could be a tad bigger, but that is just a cheap upgrade if it is ever needed. I also would have built both grandstands a little closer to the field, but their placement is quite defensible.
There are areas that I do think Miami could and should focus on with regards to the stadium to improve attendance.
I would seriously consider turning the space south of the stadium on either side of road to enter the stadium into parking space with tailgaters in mind. As long as the road is marked to keep it clear in case an ambulance exit is needed, that would be a good upgrade.
Expanding chairbacked seating on the alumni side bit by bit each year would pay for itself in season tickets sold. I'd aim for a 1000 seat conversions to chair backed seats each year.
From 12-2 to 2-10. Wow, Did Nate Davis leaving kill this school's attendance or what?
Our No. 118 is Ball State who filled 48.39 percent of their seats for a total of 10,888 fans per game in their six home games.
As much as there is truth in the idea that the drop off in wins hurt the programs' attendance this year, that defense is only valid to a point.
MAC schools draw poorly in general. Still I expect this team to bounce back to at least 15,000 when it becomes a .500 team again.
Ball State did expand their stadium in 2007 to a horseshoe with 25,400 capacity. That is all they will need for the near future in the MAC.
We are almost at the end of the Attendance Hall of Shame. Second to last on the list is another Sun Belt School, Florida International. FIU is likely to remain on the list for a good while.
They have a coach who hasn't shown much of an ability to win games.
One wonders when FIU will get smart and hire Florida royalty like a Bowden (Tommy, Terry, or Bobby) or a Shula (Mike or even possibly David if you forced him to run a spread. Make him hire guys off Hal Mumme's staff to run the offense. Dave Shula's problem always boiled down to the fact he thought he was a great offensive mind when really his offenses were always very marginal. His organizational and motivational skills were quite solid. Even if he won't go for rolling out a spread, give him an aggressive proven guy like Mike Martz at offensive coordinator and it would be look out Sun Belt).
FIU is one of those guys away from dominating the Sun Belt (or at least teams 2-10 in the Sun Belt).
FIU averaged a 51.02 percent fill rate good for an average of 10,204 fans in their five home games.
Like FAU and Buffalo, FIU has stadium issues with plans to address those issues in the near future.
Currently, their stadium has too small of a capacity with too high a percentage of end zone seats. At a glance it appears about 6000 of the stadium's current 20,000 seats are end zone (overflow) seats. That means for the average opponent 14,000 would represent a pretty good draw for a somewhat competitive FIU team.
The stadium is currently at an awkward place, with the overflow capacity stifling FIU fan turnout while the total capacity is too small to go after larger draws.
It sort of caps the athletic department at the Sun Belt schedule plus one game against a marginal draw each year. They need a school that will bring 3000-6000 fans...but nothing more. (Anything more would have a significant cost attached.)
One could see them scheduling a game a year against small somewhat nearby school who could generate a sellout like FCS schools Florida A&M, Bethune Cookman, or Georgia Southern to help attendance, but likely FIU will remain in the Hall until at least 2013—the proposed date of their stadium expansion to 45,000.
This is a very awkward stadium for building a program, but with the enrollment of the university, the program should bounce back fairly quickly after the expansion. While 10,000-14,000 will probably be the status quo for the next five years, I could see 20,000 the year of the expansion to 45,000, 25,000 three years after that, and 35,000 three years after that.
Last and least is Eastern Michigan with 5016 fans per game in 2009. They filled Rynearson Stadium to 16.61 percent of capacity in their five home games.
It gets worse.
They opened with Army—a great road draw—and drew 14,499. Yes, they averaged 2645 in their last four home games.
And those last four home games were in-conference games against their longtime rivals.
Let's not beat around the bush here.
The odds are EMU has been drawing crappy numbers throughout the last decade; they were just very honest about it this this time around.
Plus last year's schedule was especially brutal in its construction.
Something has to be done about this. No school should by playing FBS football and drawing effectively less than 3000 of their own fans per game to in-conference games! That is a money pit.
The University president, Susan Martin, and the EMU Board of Regents needs to get serious about getting the football program to an FBS subsistence level.
I am going to be harsh. Things have gone downhill for the football program under AD Derrick Gragg's leadership since his hire in 2006.
EMU plays five home games a year now because the administration (or maybe just the athletic department) doesn't have a clue how to make football work there.
EMU played three of their five home games the same day Michigan hosted teams 11 miles down the road.
They played a fourth the day all eyes in the state were focused on Michigan State for the Michigan at MSU game.
One would think Gragg approved that schedule. For that alone, his job security should be tenuous.
The guy has been in place for years and he doesn't realize that if Michigan is pulling 100K+ football fans that day to a stadium 11 miles down the road that scheduling a home game for the same day is not a good idea?
EMU is a commuter school. Weekend games are problematic for that reason anyway. Why would anyone who has been there for years compound the situation by having them play EVERY one of their home games on Saturdays? ("Fans like Saturday games" is not an acceptable answer.)
Part of the job of the athletic department is to recoup costs by selling tickets. You aren't going to do that going head to head with Michigan.
You shouldn't play a home game the same day Michigan plays a home game or the day they play at MSU. If your options are playing on Thursday or playing the same Saturday Michigan plays, play on Thursday!
This guy needs to get his act together or he needs to be replaced. He is being the Dr. Kavorkian of EMU football.
I have written an article on how to address the stadium issue at EMU, but after looking at the schedule at EMU, I think one of my next articles will be to provide the poor fans at EMU a clearly thought out guideline on how to make football work at that university. It will have a section on rules that should never, EVER be broken for scheduling.
(Can you guess rule 1?)