Can Indiana fans finally fill Memorial Stadium?

Dec 26, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Indiana Hoosiers fans hold a sign in the stands against the Duke Blue Devils during the fourth quarter in the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Duke defeated Indiana 44-41 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Indiana Hoosiers fans hold a sign in the stands against the Duke Blue Devils during the fourth quarter in the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Duke defeated Indiana 44-41 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s no secret that Indiana has a problem with getting fans to attend football games at Memorial Stadium.  Even a more successful program led by Kevin Wilson has failed to affect the average attendance per game, which has been fluctuating in the 40k-45k range for the past five years.

These numbers are generous, too. As a semi-frequent goer to Indiana football games, the average seems a little high, or perhaps are skyrocketed whenever some of the other Big Ten powerhouses come to town, such as Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc. Whenever an Indiana promo pic for football is released with a packed stadium, it is usually taken during an Ohio State or Wisconsin game to emulate that all of the supporters in Red and White are actually Hoosier fans.

Compare Indiana’s attendance averages per game to some of the other top Big Ten schools:

1) Michigan – 110,168

2) Ohio State – 107,244

3) Penn State – 99,799

4) Nebraska – 89,998

5) Wisconsin – 78,014

11) Indiana – 44,314

The only three teams that Indiana are currently ahead of in seating averages are Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern – all of whom are currently going through serious rough patches. The arrival of Lovie Smith at Illinois may even see Indiana drop down to number 12.

Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports /

Indiana will always be a basketball school, first. With an incredibly decorated history and immense support for the program, the community always flocks to Hoosier home games. Even when the team was in their rebuilding phase with Tom Crean, they still had sold out games and received love from the Hoosier faithful. There was always the mentality that Indiana would once again be national championship contender, and lo and behold, they are.

The problem with football is that despite their stellar offense, which always ranks near the top of the conference, they will never be able to close out games because of their lackluster defense. A “so-what?” mentality plagues the program because everyone knows that in the end, they will blow it. Some are still non-believers even though last season they just barely lost to two of the top teams in the nation in Ohio State and Michigan, as well as failing to close out an astronomical lead against Rutgers at home that would have put them at 9-4, undoubtedly receiving some national attention.

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I have faith that attendance will rise when the football team actually produces results. It is not a bandwagon mentality, it’s just the way it is. There are always the true fans that bring their seat cushions to the games and watch the team get routed by Michigan State on Homecoming day by 39 points (2014), but the last 8k or so students that could be filling up the stadium, go home after getting hammered at the tailgate fields. Many may not know this, but the University actually has to pair football and basketball season tickets together because otherwise, no-one would by football season tickets by themselves. Despite most students having season tickets, they still decide not to go.

What is most puzzling about the lack of support for the football team is that they are incredibly exciting to watch. It is not as if they are going three-and-out every possession – they rack up huge offensive numbers. Every year they get closer and closer to winning those games that once seemed impossible. Fans have to realize that it is a two-way street. The more fans screaming for their team, the more fired up the players get. No one wants to play home games in front of a half empty stadium. A sold out stadium may be just what Indiana needs to lift them in those tough games.

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Kevin Wilson was given the impossible task of resurrecting a program overnight. Everyone saw that Indiana hired the offensive coordinator from Oklahoma who produced Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Jason White, as well as star NFL running backs Adrian Peterson and Demarco Murray, and thought, “this guy is going to put Indiana on the map.” They may get their wish, but when he took over, the program was in a sorry state and was not going to enjoy immediate success.

It seems as though this year might be different, however. Indiana showed the most progress as they have in quite some time and fans are beginning to feel confident, for once. Unfortunately, they are in the best conference in the nation (and the most difficult division), so their title hopes are still a ways away, but they can still make great strides and better bowl games.

As far as recruiting, IU is getting a lot of great Junior College transfers and bench players from top schools that want more playing time. Soon to be starting quarterback, Richard Lagow from Cisco College, and Wesley Green from South Carolina, are great examples of quality players that Kevin Wilson is welcoming with open arms. Indiana is still losing out on the major recruits out of high school, but the ones they do secure are certainly a step up from previous years.

It would be ludicrous to think that no matter what, Indiana will never be a football school. For the first time in a long time, the program seems to be at a place that fans can be proud of, or at least not mocked for. Expect the attendance average to increase this season, along with the team’s hopes of making a better bowl than the Pinstripe Bowl, which represented Indiana’s last season perfectly – a thriller in which they just fell short.