There are usually not a ton of fans in the seats at Memorial Stadium for a Kansas football game at the time of kickoff. And when KU fans depart their seats at halftime, more than a few of them are not doing so to buy a hot dog at the concession stand.
Kansas football fans are fickle. And having watched their team become almost non-competitive over the past four-plus seasons, can you really blame them?
It was interesting Saturday that KU senior linebacker Ben Heeney, probably the team’s best player, pointed a finger at the crowd - or lack thereof - as being a culprit for the Jayhawks’ lackluster second half in a 34-28 win over Southeast Missouri State. KU had to hang on as SEMO rallied from a big first-half deficit.
“We came out in the second half with no juice,” Heeney told reporters after the game. “Half the stadium’s empty like it always is. Fans leaving at halftime. There’s no juice in the stadium and I think that’s part of it.”
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Heeney is right to feel frustrated – what Kansas player isn’t?
But he’s wrong to bring the fans into the equation.
Simply put, the Jayhawks aren’t giving fans a reason to buy a ticket for a Kansas football game these days. Not only are the Jayhawks 10-48 since midway through the 2009 season, they have won two of their past 42 games in the Big 12.
Those 10 wins have come against Georgia Tech, New Mexico State, Colorado, McNeese State, Northern Illinois, South Dakota State, South Dakota, Louisiana Tech, West Virginia and Southeast Missouri.
Kansas will support a winner. There’s plenty of evidence of that over at Allen Fieldhouse, where juice is never a problem. And when the Jayhawks were winning 25 games over a 31-game stretch in football from 2007-09, Memorial Stadium was a juicy place to be. The Jayhawks averaged just more than 50,000 per home game in 2008 (when they won the Orange Bowl) and 2009.
But since Mark Mangino left the program after the 2009 season, attendance has slipped to 44,850 (2010), 42,283 (2011), 41,328 (2012) and 37,883 (2013).
And only about half of those who go to a Kansas game usually bother to stay past halftime.
It’s a huge problem and one that can only be resolved by winning. The Jayhawks had no problem keeping their crowds involved in games when Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and company were lighting up the scoreboard just a few years back.
Now, though, Kansas football is not exciting. The Jayhawks turned the keys over to Turner Gill after Mangino left and Gill ran the program into a ditch. Two-plus years of Charlie Weis has only spun the wheels, so far.
Fans aren’t going to hang around if they’re not getting a reason to hang around. That’s just the way it is in this social media age. There are more interesting and fun places to be than at Memorial Stadium watching a lackluster football team.
Put a consistent winning team on the field and that all changes. There is no issue with fans not showing up or leaving early at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan or at countless other venues around college football.
Kansas, though, is stuck in that ditch. And Jayhawks fans have better things to do than to watch their team spin its wheels.