Fan support crucial for UTWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have to admit it. I am spoiled.
I grew up as an Ohio State fan, and for the most part, life as a Buckeye fan is pretty easy. Support for the school and its athletics is almost always at a fever pitch.
But other schools aren’t so lucky, especially our hometown UT Rockets.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I officially covered my first Rockets football game.
I remember being jazzed to watch the game from high within the Glass Bowl press box.
While everything about the program itself is first-class, the attendance isn’t always so stellar.
That first game I covered was last season’s contest against Northern Illinois, which ended up a 20-19 victory for the Rockets. At the time UT was in the early hunt for a MAC title and a postseason berth in a bowl game. Plus the midnight blue and gold was playing NIU, who has become somewhat of a rival for the Rockets as of late.
The attendance that night was 17,012, and since UT’s attendance number is not the actual attendance but rather how many tickets have been sold, the school’s figure for that night was pretty generous. The actual game crowd that night seemed to be more in the vicinity of the 8,000 to 10,000 range.
Sure, a winning team helps attendance numbers and that happened this season. The Rockets were 8-4 and only lost one game in conference play.
The Rockets also rolled out their $55 season ticket plan, which aided in the effort to get fans through the turnstiles.
It also helped that Rockets head coach Tim Beckman really ratcheted up the pressure on the fans to come out and support his team this season. He regularly took to his Facebook and Twitter accounts, urging fans to “rock the Glass Bowl.” Beckman did everything short of impersonating the famous Uncle Sam poster to attract fans to the stadium.
While that support did improve (UT averaged around 20,000 tickets sold for most home games), there were still some dismal turnouts. The Ball State game had just 15,010 fans, and the season finale, which was Senior Day for the team, attracted a season-low 12,121.
When it came time for bowl games to select their combatants for this year’s games, many believed the Rockets would be a shoo-in to get a spot in postseason play.
I was more skeptical. There are many factors that go into a board’s decision to select a team for a bowl game.
Attendance is definitely one of those factors. A bowl game’s main purpose is to make money, and they ensured that by getting a good matchup and selecting teams that will travel well.
The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl gets first choice when it comes to picking bowl-eligible MAC schools, and there is a reason why they picked the team that finished third in the conference.
Simple geography tells you why the Rockets were picked. It was a deliberate move on the bowl committee’s part to draw the highest possible attendance.
However, when speaking with coworkers, friends, and fellow media members in the Glass City, there seems to be a sense of impending doom when it comes to the attendance at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The thought is that there may be just 10,000 to 15,000 total fans who may show up for the game. With the game on national TV and locally on the radio, it is easy to just stay home and not go watch the game.
But the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl represents a prime opportunity for fans to take a quick post-Christmas jaunt up I-75 to watch the midnight blue and gold.
A solid showing of support would be a boon for the program and for the bowl, whose legitimacy and existence have been questioned by pundits recently.
I know not everyone is a die-hard Rockets fan, but we do have a duty to support our local community.
Every autumn these young men represent our city and our city’s university with pride and vigor.
Let’s show our Rockets that same effort that they show us every week on the gridiron. While four teams from the MAC received a bid in a bowl game, one with a winning record did not. Temple, who has an identical record to UT, will be staying home this holiday season.
With a poor showing by the UT fan base at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, next time it might be the Rockets who are left out in the cold.
Chris Schmidbauer is sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com. He is also the co-host of the “Odd Couple Sports Show” on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA and can be heard every weekday from at 10 a.m. to noon. He can also be seen weekly on the “Friday Night Frenzy Tailgate Show” on NBC 24’s America One.