Friday, January 23, 2009

The other game in town

When I was an IU student, men's basketball was the only full-time thought for most people once football season ended. Actually it probably was the only thought for most people during football season, too. Even national championship-calibre teams like the men's soccer team took a back seat to men's basketball.

There also is a women's basketball team on campus. While this team doesn't have the history or tradition as Hoosier men's basketball, four NCAA tournament appearances and no national championships, it happens to be playing better than the men's team this season.

The women's team is in first place in the Big Ten and has a 14-3 overall record. Its 7-1 conference mark is the team's best start ever. Yet this team is playing in front of almost nobody. On Jan. 19, when IU knocked off Purdue in Assembly Hall to take over first place, there were 4,112 fans at the game. It was the largest crowd of the season.

The Lady Hoosiers clearly are a Bloomington gem waiting to be discovered. 4,112 people fill 23.5 percent of the Assembly Hall seating capacity, which is more than 17,400. You could probably hear the ball bouncing on the floor the entire game. This is a first-place team.

A loss to Xavier on Nov. 16 brought 506 fans. The smallest crowd for a men's basketball game this season, which includes the current 8-game losing streak, is 10,701 for the Dec. 22 loss to Northeastern.

Am I calling for 17,000 fans to show up for every game? No. But isn't it time someone jumped on this bandwagon? And as the IU athletic department works to fight revenue issues, women's basketball may be another opportunity.

A boisterous home crowd also likely will lead to more wins. More wins lead to better coaches and recruits, which leads to more post-season appearances. Purdue built its women's basketball program into a power and managed to win a national championship.

I don't think IU women's basketball can become the next Tennessee or UConn, but I think the program can become a consistent winner and NCAA tournament participant.

No comments: