Get the Max With Minium: Yes, the Sellout Streak is Over, but ODU's Fans Remain Among Best in Mid-Major Football
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Something you might have missed Saturday night in the wake of Old Dominion’s weather-delayed, 28-20, loss to FIU was the end of an amazing streak.
After selling out every game at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium for nine seasons, ODU announced a crowd of 19,243 in the 20,118-seat stadium.
ODU’s sellout streak officially ended at 60.
In spite of persistent rain and thunderstorms, the stadium was more than half full when the game began. The second half was delayed by nearly two hours because of lightning and did not end until 12:31 a.m. Sunday morning.
But the lightning had nothing to do with the game not selling out.
The streak ended because ODU’s students did not pick up their full allotment of tickets.
Before we get to the issue of student attendance, let’s first acknowledge the fact that ODU sold out 60 games in a row is something that should be celebrated.
ODU athletic director Wood Selig said the end of the streak wasn’t unexpected, given the national trend of declining football attendance, and is no reason to hold a wake, either.
“We still have great fans and great support and are still the envy of most mid-major football programs in the country,” he said.
That’s indeed true. I traveled to all but two Conference USA stadium the past six years as a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, and ODU’s fan base is far larger than most.
But the trend in college football at all levels is worrysome. College football attendance has been falling at an alarming rate in recent years, especially among students.
Nationally, FBS attendance dropped by 1,409 fans per game last season, the largest drop in 38 years. Counting all divisions, CBSsports.com reports that 1,693,661 fewer fans attended college football games in 2017 than they did in 2016.
FBS attendance has declined about 5,000 spectators per game in the last decade. Even in the SEC, the best football league this side of the NFL, attendance fell by 3.14 percent last season.
Between classes and part-time jobs, many students are already time starved. And many kids today would rather hang out in their residential halls and watch Netflix, play video games or tool around on the internet than spend three hours at a football game.
There’s so much college football on TV, it’s tempting just to stay home on a Saturday with the remote control in your hand.
On Saturday, every ticket at the box office was sold, but students failed to pick up 875 of the 4,500 or so free tickets set aside for them.
“It was a 7:30 p.m. game, in prime time, on national television,” Selig said. “I don’t know why that wouldn’t be more appealing for our student body. But we’re working hard with our student leadership to increase attendance. We’re talking with student leaders and trying to figure this out.”
I was there when the sellout streak began on Sept. 5, 2009, when ODU hosted Chowan in its first football game since the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary stopped playing football in 1940.
A sellout crowd roared its approval as the Monarchs downed Chowan, 36-21. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a louder crowd for an ODU game. In the early years of ODU football, Ballard Stadium was packed with fans.
But ODU isn’t immune to national trends, and we’ve all noticed empty seats in recent years at many home games.
Credit Jason Chandler, the associate athletic director in charge of promoting games and selling tickets. He and his staff reached enough rec football league teams, business groups, high school bands and others to extend the sellout streak to 60.
What can ODU do to drum up more support among students? Building a new stadium next season can’t hurt.
ODU’s fans, including its students, have put up with poor amenities for nine seasons. That will change in 2019, when ODU opens a renovated Ballard Stadium.
ODU will spend $65 million to tear and replace the stands on the east and west sides. Fans will have much larger seats and opulent restrooms and concessions.
Unfortunately, the budget would not allow for improvements to the north end zone, where most students sit.
ODU plans some upgrades to help students. They’ll get a dedicated entrance that will allow them to enter the game without the usual traffic jam of people trying to enter Ballard Stadium. Selig said the school is also thinking about dedicating a designated tailgate area for students.
A new scoreboard, upgraded concessions for students, a state-of-the-art sound system, and perhaps most importantly, improved WIFI, should make football more attractive for students.
“We’ve got to make sure we get the bells and whistles in the new stadium right for our students,” Selig said.
“When they turn out in big numbers, they add so much to the atmosphere.”
ODU fell to 0-2 with the loss to FIU, but unlike last week’s 52-10 shocker at Liberty University, the Monarchs played hard if not always well.
ODU took an early a 17-0 lead and for a while was dominant. But the Monarchs missed a field goal and got a turnover in FIU territory that it failed to convert, and they proved to be critical errors.
FIU ran 32 consecutive plays at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third to take a 21-20 lead.
Twice, because of mixups in ODU’s defensive backfield, FIU receivers found themselves wide open for touchdowns, including a 36-yard pass from James Morgan to Austin Maloney with 3:03 left in the third quarter that gave FIU a 28-20 lead.
Wilder used two quarterbacks, sophomore Steve Williams and redshirt junior Blake LaRussa. Both played well in the first half, but ODU generated just 90 yards in the second half.
“I felt like this is a football game we were ready to play, we were focused, we were locked into tonight,” Wilder said.
“I’m extremely proud of the effort tonight, how hard we played and competed. FIU’s a very good football team. And this one is disappointing.”
The loss puts the Monarchs in a hole. They must win six of their final 10 games to become bowl eligible, and ODU plays a difficult schedule.
There are six games left against teams that played in bowls last season, including No. 12 Virginia Tech, which plays ODU at Ballard Stadium for the first time on Sept. 22. The Hokies crushed William and Mary, 62-17, in Blacksburg Saturday afternoon.
ODU next plays at Charlotte, which is 1-1 and lost to Appalachian State, 45-9. App State is a very good team – the Mountaineers took Penn State into overtime before losing.
Charlotte should be improved over last season. Most starters return from the team that ODU defeated, 6-0, a year ago in Norfolk.
“We’re going to have to dig down even deeper next week because we’ve got to go back on the road,” Wilder said.
Jonathan Duhart, the senior wide receiver who had two touchdown receptions, vowed that’s just what the Monarchs will do.
“People may want to write us off,” he said. “But I promise you, we’re going to bounce back.”