Opinion: Kent State fans: where are you?

Nick Shook

Nick Shook

Nick Shook is the men’s basketball reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected] and @NickShookDKS.

The Kent State men’s basketball team was selected for a nationally televised game last Saturday at home versus Ball State. The game began at 11 a.m., which is indeed a little early for a Saturday college basketball game. The national exposure was welcomed with open arms by both Kent State and Ball State, who advertised the game on their respective websites. Kent State’s athletic department did a solid job of advertising the game. There was one problem, though.

The majority of Kent State’s fan base didn’t show up.

The official attendance was a mediocre 2,472. ESPN’s broadcast team of Adam Amin and Brooke Weisbrod were shocked by the lack of support for a contending program that is Kent State. Weisbrod even took to her Twitter account to voice her displeasure with the lack of fans at the game, tweeting “#kentstate students, where are you? 10 minutes to tip- get out of bed, grab a 5hr energy & get over here! #BallState @ #KentState on @ESPNU”

This does not look good for a mid-major program that starves for national recognition. Kent State’s last expose was a 70-60 win over Big East Conference member West Virginia. This victory gave the Flashes some early season credibility that they have been seeking for years. Then Saturday arrived, and all of that credibility vanished.

Kent State won easily, 76-55. The Flashes played well, as they have for much of the season. The basketball game that ESPN anticipated was delivered in impressive fashion, but the student turnout left plenty to be desired.

The student section showed up — well, half of it. The baseline bleachers’ middle two sections were full of loyal supporters dressed in gold shirts for the “Goldout” themed game. The outside two sections were nearly empty.

What made it even worse was the fact that with television cameras positioned all around the M.A.C. Center, plenty of empty seats were easily found. National broadcasts are hard to come by for mid-major programs like Kent State. When they are lucky enough to get a broadcast, the sports network giant that is ESPN expects fans to come out in droves.

Instead, most of Kent State’s 25,000-plus on-campus student body decided to occupy their time by staying in bed after a Friday night that was likely full of alcohol-influenced debauchery.

Listen, I’m not a hypocrite. I understand that college kids like myself like to party and have a good time. It’s part of the reason why we work our tails off during the school week. But when the school that we attend features a basketball team that annually contends for conference championships and consistently puts a solid, entertaining product on the floor, the students need to show up, plain and simple.

An early start didn’t deter Utah State’s loyal fans from showing up. Even in the midst of an average season, the Aggies’ faithful filled the stands and showed out for ESPN. The student section performed their traditional pre-game chant of “I Believe We Will Win,” which the network was glad to showcase during stoppages of play.

I can tell you this: if Kent State and Utah State ever put together nearly identical successful seasons, ESPN will choose Utah State over Kent State 10 times out of 10.

It is, of course, understandable that the early game time is not attractive for Kent State’s less-than-loyal fan base. An unexpected snow storm did not help fans travel to the game, either.

However, I don’t want to hear excuses of “I don’t like basketball” or “it was an early game.” That doesn’t make a broadcast of Kent State basketball any more attractive for ESPN. In fact, it probably will drive them away, which will hurt the basketball program, along with the rest of the athletic programs.

I know students who don’t like the game of basketball that still showed up in blue and gold to support their Golden Flashes.

Students just like you and I put in countless hours of work in the classroom and on the court to prepare for success, and in return they get less than 3,000 fans for a nationally televised game. This makes Kent State’s school pride look terrible. When Akron comes to Kent to play our Flashes at the end of the regular season, ESPN has the option to broadcast the game.

After Saturday’s turnout, I don’t think the network will be so quick to choose the annual rivalry.

This needs to change. Now.

It starts with increased advertising by the athletic program. Post flyers all over campus. Send interns and students employed by the office all over campus to hand out flyers and encourage students to attend the game. Spread awareness and make sure that students know that ESPN will be there. Make sure that students know they will get TV time, because ESPN loves showcasing the students that show up to support their team and students love getting their 15 seconds of fame.

Secondly, bring the student section together as one. Make up chants that distract opposing players. Print out giant headshot photos of players, tape them to poster board and wave them around obnoxiously when the opposing team is at the free throw line.

Ohio University has two giant bricks that they wave when opposing players shoot free throws. Ohio also leads the conference in average attendance with 5,857 fans per game. Has Ohio won a MAC East regular season title in the past two season? No, because that honor belongs to Kent State. It’s time that the fans return the favor by showing up to support their team.

As the men’s basketball beat reporter, I’ve been to nearly every game Kent State has played this season, both home and away. Over 6,000 fans filled the M.A.C. Center early in the season for a game versus Cleveland State, for obvious reasons. It was a rivalry game between two very good northeast Ohio programs that were expected to do well this season. Kent State lost that game, but has reeled off a win streak that has now reached six games. The Flashes are peaking at just the right time, and it’s time that the fans do the same.

Kent State’s next two home games, including an important conference game versus Buffalo and a BracketBuster game against the College of Charleston, will be broadcast on SportsTime Ohio. Come out and support the Flashes as they continue their quest for their third-straight MAC East regular season title.

As Kent State’s head coach Rob Senderoff said in a recent interview with the Akron Beacon Journal’s Stephanie Storm: What more do you want as a fan? What are you waiting on?