Texas State ran onto the field at Bobcat Stadium and into a stadium, generously announced, as a third full. The attendance, just over 12,000 wasn't close to the actual bodies in the stadium, that number was several thousand less. Did you ever wonder what apathy looks like? Here's a photo.
You can't blame Texas State fans for staying away in droves, San Marvelous doesn't have a rich history as a football town, and the Bobcats are among the worst teams in the FBS. That's a point they hammered home yesterday. But down I-35, thirty minutes away, UTSA took the field as an undefeated, 3-0, home favorite with aspirations of greater things. Their attendance was 2,000 less than their home opener against FCS opponent Southern. SMU's most talented team in years drew less than 20,000 for a conference opener a week ago.
Getting butts into seats is not an easy task with today's technological advances and varied interests. Even mighty Texas and A&M can't fill their monoliths. There doesn't appear to be an easy fix, at least better concession items and improved WiFi don't seem to hold the key. For Texas State, the student section was an empty wasteland, not comparable to the crowd from two weeks ago. Then again, losing does that to you.
UTSA has been the focus of national columnists and picked off a Power 5 for the first time earlier this season. Why the Roadrunners couldn't get near their designated capacity begs the question whether they ever will, short of the occasional Power 5 visitor. Such is the problem with conference realignment and the mad scramble to make something where nothing existed. Texas State and UTSA have nothing in common with either Louisiana Monroe or Southern Mississippi, but they've been shoehorned into leagues together. Neither school moves the needle for the home fan base. That much is clear. SMU fans didn't care much about UConn either.
Still, attendance is driving force to get to someplace better. In the eighties and early nineties, TCU played in a concrete tomb where the question wasn't "what time is kickoff?" it was "what time can you get here?" Then TCU football became an event; facilities were upgraded, oh and the Horned Frogs put together an undefeated season. Then the Big 12 came calling. TCU, once a line item in the argument to disband the SWC is a national power a generation later.
For North Texas, Texas State, UTSA, SMU, and the rest of the G-5 landscape, the question is whether any have access to a fan base that can raise the profile of the institution so when the next round of realignment happens, they'll be in a position to upgrade. At Texas State, if Everett Withers ever actually turns the program, perhaps Texas State students will start turning out more than once a year, but even that isn't a given.
There's no reason why UTSA should draw more for Southern than Southern Miss. There's no reason why next week's UTSA/North Texas game should draw less than 30,000. Chances are it will. Even with two talented teams, fans will find a reason to stay home. UTSA doesn't have the history to compare with North Texas, SMU, or even Texas State. They do however have a talented team that deserved much better than to run out of the tunnel to a smaller crowd. SMU's checkered past is mostly behind them; Chad Morris continues to put together an offensive juggernaut. Sadly the Mustangs play in front of a lot of empty red seats at Ford Stadium.
The situation may not get much better for either team. SMU is likely to lose Chad Morris sooner than later, and Frank Wilson is already on the list of hot names for jobs like Ole Miss and Tennessee. If you're a fan at either SMU or UTSA, these are historically special times. No one seems to realize that. UTSA might still win ten games, the list of G5 teams that can legitimately claim that wouldn't fill up two hands. SMU boasts NFL talent the likes of which the Mustangs haven't seen since the early 80's. In short, these guys are good, if only that translated into ticket sales and butts in seats.