Sparse Temple crowds nothing to cheer about

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(Chris Chambers/Getty Images file photo)

Temple point guard Will Cummings and forward Jaylen Bond were 70 seconds into their postgame session with the media Tuesday night when they were asked how helpful the crowd had been during the Owls' 16-point win over Cincinnati.

The man asking the question looked young enough to be a Temple student. If he was pleased by the raucous atmosphere inside the Liacouras Center during a terrific performance by Cummings, Bond, and the entire Temple team, he had every right to be.

"It was a great crowd," Cummings said. "The student section was crazy like normal and kind of what we need . . . to have our fans behind us each and every game."

The students behind the basket on the south end of the court were every bit as rowdy as the Cameron Crazies at Duke or the Izzone at Michigan State. They held up jumbo face cutouts of the Phillie Phanatic, Rocky, Will Smith and other city icons. When Bond ended a late-game flight toward the basket with a Stretch Armstrong slam off a feed from guard Jesse Morgan, the student section saluted the junior forward by rhythmically chanting his name.

"It was crazy," Bond said. "I just started laughing. I enjoyed it. We have a great student section."

The crowd at the Liacouras Center was loud enough Tuesday night to make it sound as if the place was filled to capacity. The total attendance, however, was only 6,603, a disappointing number on a night when Temple was playing a talented conference opponent in an arena that can accommodate more than 10,000 people.

Temple's basketball attendance is down this season even though coach Fran Dunphy has the program back up again after a 9-22 finish a year ago. The Owls (18-7) are drawing an average of 5,159 fans per game at the Liacouras Center and the arena has been more than half empty for six of their 12 games. The overall average attendance jumps to 5,623 if you count the one game at the Wells Fargo Center when the Owls routed Kansas. Those numbers reflect poorly on the school's alumni.

There is a commitment from school president Neil Theobald, athletic director Kevin Clark, and deputy director of athletics Pat Kraft to make Temple sports more relevant than ever. There is talk of a football stadium on campus, and Kraft said he can see a future in which 8,000 to 10,000 consistently cram into the Liacouras Center for basketball games.

"Look, everybody in the country wants full arenas," Kraft said. "We're really happy since we've come back from [winter] break with the energy in the building. We're not disappointed. We're encouraged that it is growing."

Kraft, who like Theobald and Clark cut his collegiate athletic teeth at Indiana University, talked about all the things that Temple tries to do to make the Liacouras Center a fan-friendly experience. It's a great modern college arena that houses a team that has been mostly good during Dunphy's nine seasons since he took over from the legendary John Chaney in 2006.

It would be blasphemous to say it's a better place than the Palestra, but it's not a reach at all to say it is in the running with St. Joseph's renovated Hagan Arena as the second-best basketball venue in the city.

Temple, with its large alumni base, should be able to match and even exceed Villanova's average attendance even though the Wildcats have played for decades in the more high-profile Big East. There are enough people in the city - and enough good basketball from the teams - for both programs to thrive. Only once, however, has Temple outdrawn Villanova since the Liacouras Center opened during the 1997-98 season. That was during the 1999-2000 season, when the Owls drew a record average of 8,481 per game.

The Owls have averaged fewer than 6,000 fans per season 10 times in the last 12 years, and that number could grow to 11 of 13 this season. Those numbers make little sense when you consider that Dunphy has led the Owls to the NCAA tournament in six of his eight seasons and is in position to do so again this year.

Again, the biggest finger needs to be pointed at the alumni. Those are the people Temple must persuade to come back to the North Philadelphia campus if they want to take the athletic programs to another level. If they cannot do it with a traditionally successful basketball program, it's reasonable to wonder whether it would be worthwhile to spend the millions it would take to erect an on-campus football stadium.

"Our building is fantastic - one of the best in the country," Kraft said. "It can rock. The history is here. Winning obviously helps and we're getting there. Fran is one of the best coaches in college basketball, and that's a nice thing to have.

"We have to get the alumni to buy in and feel that passion. We have to look in the mirror and continue to do our part to give them a product they can be enthused about. Our current students drive the energy. The alumni can see them and get excited.

"Yes, it's a pro sports town, but . . . we do not allow that to be an excuse here. Our focus is trying to get that group of alumni to come back and have pride in what we're doing. We have to get people talking and coming to games."

History has proved that is a tough sell, and only the many Temple alumni can change that history.

 


How Temple Crowds Stack Up

Here's a look at how Temple's overall attendance and attendance at the Liacouras Center compares with the other teams in its conference.

Team   Arena   Capacity   Avg. Attendance

Memphis   FedEx Forum    18,119   13,701

Connecticut   XL Center    16,294   12,934

   Gampel Pavilion    10,167   9,805

   Webster Bank Arena    10,000   9,124

   Combined average       11,165

Cincinnati   Fifth Third Arena    13,176   8,615

SMU   Moody Coliseum    7,000   6,898

Temple   Liacouras Center    10,200   5,159

   Wells Fargo Center    19,500   11,188

   Combined average       5,623

Tulsa   Reynolds Center    8,355   4,996

East Carolina   Minges Coliseum   8,000   4,494

Central Florida   CFE Arena   10,000    3,871

South Florida   Sun Dome   10,411    3,448

Houston   Hofheinz Pavilion   8,479    2,479

Tulane   Devlin Field House   4,100    1,729

Through Tuesday's games

Temple vs. Villanova Attendance

Here's a look at how Temple and Villanova have compared in home men's basketball attendance since the Owls started playing in the Liacouras Center during the 1997-98 season. The record for the teams in each year is in parentheses. The ranking indicates where they stood among Division I teams in attendance. Temple was not in the top 100 three times and that is noted by the word "out" in the Owls' ranking. This year's rankings will not be available until after the season.

Year   Temple   avg. att.   Rank   Villanova   avg. att   Rank

1997-98   (21-9)   7,964   57   (12-17)   8,391   54

1998-99   (24-11)   7,725   61   (21-11)   8,540   54

1999-00   (27-6)   8,481   54   (20-13)   7,884   62

2000-01   (24-13)   7,138   74   (18-13)   7,298   70

2001-02   (19-15)   7,123   69   (19-13)   7,325   66

2002-03   (18-16)   5,202   out   (15-16)   8,584   54

2003-04   (15-14)   5,782   93   (18-17)   7,449   70

2004-05   (16-14)   4,614   out   (24-8)   8,260   60

2005-06   (17-16)   5,725   93   (28-5)   9,949   42

2006-07   (12-18)   4,312   out   (22-11)   10,706   38

2007-08   (21-13)   6,117   93   (22-13)   9,838   49

2008-09   (22-12)   5,933   90   (30-8)   9,404   52

2009-10   (29-6)   6,376   83   (25-8)   10,936   38

2010-11   (26-8)   5,925   90   (21-12)   10,511   38

2011-12   (24-8)   8,165   58   (13-19)   8,923   44

2012-13   (24-10)   5,917   96   (20-14)   8,022   55

2013-14   (9-22)   5,963   88   (29-5)   8,943   48

2014-15   (18-7)   5,622   ??   (21-2)   9,389   ??

Through Tuesday's games

Source: NCAA

- Bob Brookover


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob