Where have all the Big 12 Conference men's basketball fans gone?
According to the latest league statistics, Kansas is the only school in the league that hasn't experienced an attendance decline. The Jayhawks, as they have been for years, are filling Allen Fieldhouse to its 16,300 capacity -- or very close to it.
In the meantime, all of the other conference schools' average crowds are lower than last year -- none more noticeable than at Texas Tech where the novelty of having Bob Knight as head coach appears to have worn off faster than a Yugo paint job.
Last season, Knight's first in Lubbock, the Red Raiders averaged 13,743 fans a game, second only to Kansas. This year, despite bolting out of the chute and earning a national ranking, Tech's average crowd in classy 15,098-seat United Spirit Arena has been only 7,801.
Surely, Texas Tech's home attendance will climb during the Big 12 portion of the schedule, but not enough to wipe out a deficit of nearly 6,000 fans per game. Hmmm ... maybe Texas Tech fans are weary of waiting for Knight, uncharacteristically docile since arriving in Lubbock following a stormy tenure at Indiana, to explode.
Another surprise has been Oklahoma. Here the Sooners are coming off an NCAA Final Four season with four returning starters and you would expect tickets would be harder to find than John Blake memorabilia. Instead, OU is averaging 10,124 fans in revamped 12,000-seat Noble Arena.
Maybe now that football season is over, the Sooners will be playing in front of SRO crowds again. I know one thing. They'll need shoehorns at Noble Arena when Kansas plays there on Feb. 23.
Missouri is another team slipping at the gate. MU is down about 2,200 fans a game even though the Tigers are winning and Quin Snyder is still cute. Perhaps some of the Mizzou faithful are taking the season off, avoiding the dreary lame-duck Hearnes Building while its replacement is under construction.
Although Hilton Coliseum in Ames will be full to its 14,092-seat brim when Kansas plays Monday night at Iowa State, the Cyclones' average home crowd is down to about 11,000 this season after a struggling ISU team lured 12,100 per opening last year. Look for crowds to improve, though, if 2002 was an anomaly and the Cyclones are legitimate title contenders again after capturing back-to-back Big 12 crowns in 2000 and 2001.
Texas, another league school with title aspirations, is down about 1,000 a game, but the Longhorns, as talented and as exciting as they are to watch, aren't likely to draw any more than the 10,000 or so per game they attracted last year. UT's Erwin Center is the second biggest barn in the league, holding only about 200 fewer bodies than Allen Fieldhouse, but the 'Horns played in front of a full house just once (Texas Tech) last season.
You know what they say about Texas. UT has only two sports -- football and spring football.
At the lower end of the attendance spectrum, Kansas State continues to struggle to fill 13,500-seat Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats' average crowd last season was about 6,000. This season it's been about 4,800, or about 35 percent of capacity.
The Big 12's other attendance-challenged spots are Texas A&M; and Colorado.
The Aggies are playing to about 34 percent capacity in Reed Arena, one of the league's most fan-friendly places because of its ample parking and comfortable seating. But A&M; is luring only about 4,300 a game in the 12,500-seat facility.
As usual, Coloradoans would rather stay home and wax their skis than go watch the Buffaloes play in the insipid Coors Events Center. The Buffs are luring only 3,334 fans a game this season. That's down from a league low of 5,006 last year.
Yet if you think that's bad, how small do you think Colorado crowds would be if the Coors Center wasn't the only place in the league where you can buy a beer?