John Clay's notes: What do college basketball's shrinking student sections mean?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 20, 2013 

Random notes:

■ More anecdotal evidence of an attendance tipping point:

On Monday night, college basketball junkies were all abuzz on Twitter at the sight of so many empty seats, especially in the student section, at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils' first-round NIT win over UNC Asheville.

Tuesday night, with gaping open spaces in the upper-level student section, Rupp Arena saw its lowest attendance figure of the John Calipari era when an announced crowd of 20,305 watched the fourth-ranked Cats whip up on Texas-Arlington.

That was the smallest Rupp attendance for a UK basketball game since November 2008.

What are the common denominators here? Both games featured non-competitive opponents. Both games suffered from poor attendance in the student section.

Not just that, however. Both schools tried to sell the unoccupied seats but could not muster a walk-up crowd.

We've gone over all the reasons before — high-definition television; ramped-up ticket prices; a plethora of entertainment alternatives, including more interesting games on the various cable networks — but it seems that students aren't showing up at games just to show up at games. And neither is the general public.

■ Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski ripped the ticketing process mandated by the NIT, but Duke's student attendance has been declining for the past five years. As well, the face value of the tickets was $70. Pretty steep for college kids.

■ By the way, a check of Ticketmaster shows plenty of upper-level seats available for UK's game with Cleveland State on Monday night. Including fees, price is $47 a ticket.

■ Plenty of readers were blaming Mitch Barnhart and UK for the fact that Tuesday night's game was on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, a cable company with a narrow audience reach.

UK has nothing to do with it. ESPN makes that call, giving rights to the games it doesn't want to other carriers, such as Fox Sports South or CSS.

■ After the Champions Classic last week, fabulous freshmen were the talk of the college basketball world. This week, the talk is about a sophomore.

Marcus Smart's 39 points in Oklahoma State's win over Memphis pushed the Big 12 Player of the Year to early-early favorite status in the National Player of the Year speculation.

■ Did you see where North Carolina made just 22 of its 48 free throws against Belmont in Sunday's loss?

■ Speaking of free throws, I remain all-in on the new emphasis on the old rules. It has already made for a better game and the number of free throws are likely to go down as teams adjust to the whistles.

Come on, Wisconsin scored 103 points on Tuesday against North Dakota. Yes, Wisconsin.

■ One factor that works against Kentucky on Saturday in Athens: It is quarterback Aaron Murray's Senior Day for Georgia. Could the Bulldogs get upset on Aaron Murray's Senior Day?

■ Speaking of Georgia, I'll bet that when former Kentucky coach Guy Morriss saw the 73-yard tipped pass that Auburn caught for the touchdown that beat the Bulldogs last Saturday, a chill ran up his spine.

Not sure I've seen a play that was so reminiscent of the 2001 Bluegrass Miracle when LSU threw a 74-yard touchdown pass, that was tipped by UK defenders, to beat the Cats.

■ Florida State's current success can only help Mark Stoops on the recruiting trail.

■ The Bengals hit their bye week with a comfortable lead in the AFC North and the same unanswered question they had at the beginning of the season. Is Andy Dalton good enough at quarterback to get Cincinnati to the Super Bowl?

■ So Ohio State is going to wear retro uniforms for its rivalry game with Michigan. If there was ever one game that didn't need novelty uniforms, it's Ohio State-Michigan.

■ Congrats to UK volleyball coach Craig Skinner on his 200th win as a head coach. His squad has a huge match on Sunday when undefeated Missouri comes to Memorial Coliseum.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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