Low attendance at games frustrates coach

Updated: December 18, 2003, 9:33 PM ET
Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Bob Knight is feeling frustrated, and it's not just with his Texas Tech team.

Knight, in his 38th year of coaching, said he is disappointed in attendance this season and has chastised the West Texas community and Texas students. Over the weekend he suggested the school look at giving up the sport if more people don't show up.

Now he's threatening never to play in Dallas again if more tickets aren't sold when Tech (9-2) plays Iowa there Monday night.

"This is a game being played for Texas Tech people," Knight said Wednesday. "If they can't support a basketball game, we're not going back."

Tech officials said as many as 8,500 tickets had been sold as of late Thursday.

Knight said there are about 35,000 Texas Tech alums in the Dallas area and they should be willing to support an effort to fill the 19,200-seat American Airlines Center.

But it's the attendance at the 15,000-plus seat United Spirit Arena that has really rankled him.

"I'm really, really, really disappointed in attendance in basketball games here," Knight said after only about 6,000 people attended Saturday night's game. "That's a thing that has come to bother me a lot."

Average attendance at the arena is 6,976. Last year it was 9,962. In Knight's first season, two years ago, the average was 13,743. The arena holds 15,098.

Some Knight critics say his curiosity factor has worn off since his first season. He hasn't thrown a chair and hasn't had the kind of outbursts he was known for at Indiana.

"It looks like the novelty has worn off," said Walter Schaller, a philosophy professor at Tech who started a petition drive against Knight's hiring two years ago. "I can sympathize with someone who's unhappy about attendance because faculty face that all the time. On one hand, it was finals week. I'm happy students were studying for finals rather going to a basketball game."

Gerald Myers, Tech's athletic director, took issue with Schaller's stance.

"I think people still are interested," Myers said. "It's not that we haven't sold tickets. His team works hard, he works hard. I think Bob was somewhat frustrated because he wanted the show of support for those players and the efforts and the work they've done."

Knight and his team also are up against the loyal fans of Tech's women's team (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP).

"If they've got a choice between going to a women's or men's games, I think they'll choose the women," said Gary Elbow, a geography professor who in 2001 signed the anti-hiring petition. "Whether it bothers Knight or not, it's a reality."

Season ticket sales for both teams are up. The men's team has sold 7,068 tickets, up from 6,936 last season; the Lady Raiders have sold 7,014, up from 6,788.

But through their seven home game, the Lady Raiders are averaging 11,072. Much of the difference in the numbers is probably due to how they're tallied. Knight wants turnstile count used; the Lady Raiders' numbers are done according to tickets sold.

One Lubbock resident said he doesn't understand Knight's anger.

"There's other things to do in Lubbock," said Kevin King, a Lubbock resident who wrote a letter to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal after Knight made his comments Saturday. "Every week it's a different excuse. 'We win but you didn't come out and watch us. We lose and Andre Emmett didn't play his best defense.' It gets old."

Tech is developing a ticket exchange program so fans who don't plan to attend a game make their tickets available to others.

One longtime Tech basketball fan who initially opposed Knight's hiring said he always tries to find someone to use his tickets if he can't.

"And most of the time I can find someone who is really glad to go," said Robert Baker, a Tech biology professor. "I certainly don't agree with him that we should give up basketball, but I certainly agree with him that there's a serious shortage of fans in the United Spirit Arena."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press