Is it possible that Akron's closest rival will be sanctioned for poor fan support?
Kent State is making a marketing push to get 90,000 fans into the Dix Stadium this year. (The logo below and an accompanying Web site were leaked to me by a KSU staff member.) Ninety-thousand represents the total needed to meet the NCAA's requirement of averaging 15,000 fans per home game (paid or actual attendance). If you believe the announced attendance (and I don't), KSU barely scraped that figure last year at 93,432.
You would think that, because Akron-Kent is at Dix Stadium this year, 90,000 should be attainable. But when you look at the rest of the schedule, it's not a slam-dunk. Akron vs. Kent usually attracts about 20,000. That means Kent's other five games have to average about 14,000 each. Four of the other home games are scheduled for Oct. 30 or later. The fifth home game is against Murray State. No team other than Akron (and maybe Ohio) is likely to bring any of its own fans.
Akron's attendance last season was 104,294. Unlike in previous years when attendance was embarrassingly inflated, I actually think that number is legit. Don't take a sigh of relief, though. It was the opening season for InfoCision Stadium. Akron-Kent was a home game. The Zips welcomed their first Big Ten visitor (Indiana). Also, aside from the Eastern Michigan game, the weather was pretty good each week.
Akron's outlook in 2010 will depend on how the team is doing at the end of the season. If the Zips are contending for the MAC East, they will have two winnable games against Miami and Buffalo to finish the schedule, and fans are likely to take interest. If the Zips have a conference record of 1-5 or 2-4 heading into those games, nobody is going to show up to watch meaningless football in the chilly late November. This is the reason we hired Tom Wistrcill.
What happens if you drop below the 15,000 average for two straight seasons? No one knows for sure because the NCAA has not had to enforce it. Generally, a university buys up the tickets necessary to reach compliance before it gets to that point. The NCAA has threatened to take away FBS status if the problem persists long enough.
With the economy in Northeast Ohio not permitting a whole lot of discretionary spending, the attendance issue is something to watch for both Akron and Kent fans this fall.