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Post A word about the crowd

Thursday March 15, 2007

The announced crowd last night was somewhere just over 2,000. It was, as they say, "intimate" even with some great promotions going on. With the general lack of interest in the NIT combined with the ghost town that is Athens during spring break, last night’s small crowd wasn’t a surprise. The fans that were there were great. That kind of crowd is comparable in size to those we get for some women’s games, and the enthusiasm is rarely as high as it was last night. You had people who wanted to be there; there were no vast gaps left by absent season ticket holders, nor was the crowd diluted by the morgue that is the faculty/staff section. The fans filled in close to the court, and the effect was impressive considering that the gym was only 20% full.

One of the best scenes of the evening happened off-camera during player introductions. Dennis Felton often spends time in the student section before games, but last night he went up ten or more rows into the stands behind the bench with a wide grin thanking those fans for coming out. Many of those fans probably didn’t have season tickets in that area, so they saw in person for the first time Felton’s genuine gratitude for their support. After the game, he took time before media interviews to thank those who remained on the student side. His grin was as wide as you’d expect if Georgia had just advanced to the Sweet 16 of the "other" tournament. Though he’d surely much rather be playing today, this win was still progress, and he seemed truly grateful for those who are coming along for the ride.

It’s suddenly a story that Georgia basketball fans are scarce. Jeff Schultz wrote about the game and crowd last night, and Chip Towers filed a note from the SEC Tournament last weekend contrasting the thin Georgia hometown support with that of the many Florida fans in attendance.

Lucy and Charlie Brown
Life as a Bulldog hoops fan.

It’s not a recent development that Georgia basketball fans are notoriously fickle, slow to jump on board, and quick to jump off. It’s how life is for any Georgia sport other than football. and when it comes to SEC basketball nearly every school’s fan base ebbs and flows with the fortunes of their team. The exception of course is Kentucky. Mark Bradley, also writing from the SEC Tournament last weekend, noted with sadness that the Arkansas traveling fan base, once strong enough during their mid-90s run to rival the Wildcats, had lost around 80% of its size. If basketball-crazy Arkansas doesn’t turn out for a decent team that ended up in the SEC finals and headed to the NCAA Tournament, I’m not really surprised by the Georgia fans.

Dawg fans have shown that they’ll turn out for a winner. The twilight of the Harrick era was a wonderful heavyweight slug fest with Florida. Stegeman was rocking for that game as it had been for many big games over those two seasons. The game was as intense and the crowd was as electric as you’ll ever find in college hoops. Then the rug was pulled out from under the season less than a week later. Fans saw the postseason, the star player, and an entire recruiting class disappear. It wasn’t the first time that Georgia fans had a taste of success evaporate. To be a Georgia basketball fan is to be Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

As Felton keeps building the program and the wins continue to come, the fans will come back. Considering the history of the program, I can’t blame them for being a bit hesitant to believe.

3 Responses to 'A word about the crowd'

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  • You could not have stated your thoughts any better. I firmly believe that the Georgia Basketball Program is in better hands right now than in any time in it’s history. I live in south Florida and watched every game that was televised. We’ve got the right man at the right time at the helm. I feel that the prospects for success…SUSTAINED success is here to stay. This team will become a fixture in the NCAA tourney in the not-so-distant future. The days of tiny crowds will surely transform into a groundswell of support in very short order. Just as Mark Richt has resurrected the football program after a decade of funk, Dennis Felton is doing the same for men’s hoops. Both men are doing it the right way and that is the best news of all. Folks…we’re 1 win away from a 20 win season. Considering where we were 3 years ago, I’d say that is a minor miracle.

  • Your excuses are well and good other than the fact that EVERY other NIT game was attended between 50% and 5000% better. Even Ole Miss(the only SEC team with a worse historical resume’ than UGA) drew almost $5k.

    Our hoops fan base is a flat out embarrassment. It doesn’t change anything by complaining, but it doesn’t help by joining the rest of the apathetic masses either.

  • No, I wasn’t thrilled with the size of the crowd, but it didn’t really surprise me or disappoint me.

    I’m still confident that the fans will come as the wins do, and we’re not going to drag people to games.

    Besides, what the hell else is there to do in Oxford?