Low attendance may affect Division I-A standing

Dave Yochum

Was Dix Stadium half-full or half-empty for this year’s Homecoming?

More importantly, does it even matter?

Continuing the trend of mediocre attendance at Kent State’s home football games, this year’s Homecoming game between the Golden Flashes and Miami of Ohio drew a crowd of less than half of Dix Stadium’s capacity level of 30,520. With 14,002 attendees watching the Flashes fall behind early and never really compete throughout the game, it’s easy to see why attendance might be sagging.

“I didn’t go to Homecoming and don’t go to any of the games because we’re always going to lose,” said senior operations management major Mark Simmons. “They even have $1 beers to lure people there, and it’s still not worth going to me.”

Students such as Simmons, who chooses to stay away from Dix Stadium on game day, may not be aware, but attendance at Kent State’s home football games does count for more than just moral support of the team. It counts toward the program’s Division I-A standing.

NCAA Division I-A football requirements are lengthy. Schools must not only be reviewed and accepted into the Division I-A program by a committee, they must also schedule 60 percent of their football games against other Division I-A opponents, sponsor a minimum of 16 varsity intercollegiate sports, and – most important in Kent State’s case – maintain an average of 15,000 in actual attendance for all home football games.

So far this year, Kent State is averaging an attendance of 10,115 through two games. Compare that number to last year’s average attendance after two games, a healthier 21,323, and cause for concern regarding the potential loss of Division I-A status might be justified.

Mel Mellis, chair of Kent State’s National Athletic Advisory Council, is well aware of attendance issues at Dix Stadium, but to his knowledge, schools have a few years to bump up attendance numbers before any action is taken.

“My understanding of our football status is that all Division I schools have to have ticket sales averaging 15,000 a game,” Mellis explained. “The program has two years to meet the attendance requirement. If the program doesn’t meet the requirement, at least as of now, there is no clear procedure of what happens next. However, there is the potential that because these standards are so new that they might not even really invoke them.”

The standards for attendance, among the other requirements for Division I-A standing, were reworked in 2004. Poor turnout or tougher rules aside, Mellis doesn’t think Kent State’s Division I-A eligibility should be affected by attendance at all.

“Personally, I think it’s outrageous because it shouldn’t matter if anyone showed up,” Mellis said. “If teams want to compete in Division I-A, they should let them.”

Kent State Athletic Director Laing Kennedy elaborated on Mellis’ comments regarding Kent State’s Division I-A eligibility and NCAA rules while standing by the school’s athletic program. He said he believes that nobody should be worried about losing Kent State’s division standing and backs his position with some hard facts of his own.

“Our program at Kent State is the number one program in the MAC,” Kennedy said. “I believe attendance isn’t going to be an issue for us because at the Homecoming game we had nearly 4,500 students, which is an all-time high for student attendance.

“Student and community support is important to us. Next year Akron will be back here, we’re going to open up the season against a Big Ten opponent, Homecoming will probably be Oct. 14 against Temple, and scheduled sometime down the road are Army and Navy. With those things in place, I feel very confident in the team and product on the field.”

Nationally recognized opponents aside, it’s hard to ignore the empty seats and empty feeling that the losses at Dix Stadium provide.

When asked what would get him or others to go to more Kent State football games, a hopeful Simmons cited Ohio State’s football program as an example of what would finally get him to Dix Stadium.

“If we were a school like Ohio State and were crazy like that I’d go,” Simmons said. “They’d have to keep the $1 beers though.”

Contact features reporter Dave Yochum at [email protected].