Bohm: What happened to Maples crowds?

Feb. 22, 2011, 1:35 a.m.

It’s too bad I don’t know the first thing about NASCAR, because someone younger than me won the Daytona 500 yesterday. That’s a pretty darn good story that I am ill-equipped to write, so instead I, and you, am stuck with my usual rants.

In case you hadn’t heard—and you probably hadn’t—the Stanford’s men’s basketball team hosted the Los Angeles schools this past weekend. Attendance at both games was under 5,900. Maples Pavilion, the beautiful little arena that the Cardinal calls home, seats almost 7,400 people at capacity. That’s 1,500 empty seats. That is unbelievable.

Statistics like the ones I just presented used to be unthinkable. In fact, when I was a freshman in 2006-07, I had to camp out the night before the UCLA game in order to get a decent spot in the student section. Fans were packed three deep in each row of the all-standing student section. When Stanford hosted UCLA Thursday, you probably could have showed up at halftime and stood in the front row at center court. What happened?

It’s not as if that ‘06-‘07 team was all that much better than this year’s team. In ‘06-’07, the Cardinal men’s basketball team was likely the last team in the NCAA Tournament and got absolutely annihilated by Louisville in the first round. Plus, back then, Sixth Man membership actually cost money (I think it was about $70 for the season). Before one game either that season or the next, I asked Steve Lavin, who is now the head coach at St. John’s but at the time was an ABC announcer, what some of the best atmospheres for college basketball were in the country. Without hesitation he said Stanford was right near the top. Not anymore.

Today, the student section is free—and still empty. Maybe if the Athletics Department still charged for those seats people would feel they needed to get their money’s worth and actually show up—but probably not.

So what changed?

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain. Sure, Stanford was consistently one of the nation’s top teams in the early 2000s and now hasn’t been particularly good since 2007-08. But an electric home atmosphere also helps a team improve. It makes recruits want to come to campus and gives the team a discernable home-court advantage.

Maybe students and fans have decided to support other Stanford teams instead of the men’s basketball team. After all, the men’s basketball team is actually one of the school’s worst-performing athletic programs right now. I don’t know if that is the case, however, because I believe that more students and fans are interested in basketball than just about any other sport.

Right now, the Cardinal has a very solid freshman class, so perhaps attendance will improve along with the team over the next few years. But even so, it would be nice if fans would consistently support the team even if it were struggling (Note: I’m not saying the team is necessarily struggling; in fact, I believe Stanford is definitely improving).

Regardless, I think that interest in men’s basketball is the sort of thing that could snowball. If small groups of people start going to games more consistently and being rowdy, more fans will come because packed basketball games are incredibly fun for fans.

The Maples Pavilion Wikipedia page describes the student section as “raucous,” which right now is essentially an indictment of Wikipedia’s credibility. There has been nothing raucous about Stanford home games for a few years. How about students make home games raucous again? It will be good for the team and fun for all.

Daniel Bohm conveniently forgot to mention how many games he has been to in the past few seasons. Invite him to stand next to you at the last home game of the season at bohmd “at”

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