Blue Raiders trying to raise attendance

Updated: October 22, 2004, 6:37 PM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blue Raiders are 2-4 and attendance is down, but Middle Tennessee State is hoping hip-hop can keep the team playing in Division I.

Football programs must average 15,000 fans a game to stay in the NCAA's top division. But Middle Tennessee averaged only about 14,000 in its first two home games.

And there's no guarantee that a Saturday game against equally miserable Idaho (2-5) will put fans in the seats.

So Middle Tennessee has scheduled a free concert immediately after the game by rapper Big Boi, half of the popular hip-hop duo Outkast. Anyone who wants to attend the concert must attend the 2 p.m. game.

"It's definitely an attempt to get people in the stands," MTSU spokesman Doug Williams said. "We want our students to come to games and be exposed to the MTSU experience, and we thought this would be a good way to do it."

Williams acknowledged that the concert is also an attempt to boost attendance numbers to stay in Division I.

When the school moved up from the lower Division I-AA in 1999, the NCAA requirement was simply to sell at least 17,000 tickets. Now the number is lower, but the fans actually have to attend. If the school sells 30,000 tickets, but only 14,000 show up, that's not good enough, Williams said.

Middle Tennessee, located in Murfreesboro, 30 miles southeast of Nashville, has two more home games after Saturday.

"We certainly want to reach that threshold [of 15,000], and that's certainly part of the motivation," Williams said.

MTSU athletic director Boots Donnelly said "coming to a football game is no longer the norm. You have to have an activity."

He said no one will be allowed in the stadium once the game ends, but people can leave if they don't want to attend the concert. However, he expects most to stay.

"There's a tremendous amount of conversation about coming to the game," Donnelly said.

Big Boi's latest CD, "Speakerboxx", is part of a 2-disc set -- "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" -- which was released last year with Outkast partner Andre 3000. The Atlanta-based duo won three Grammys earlier this year for the album and for the single "Hey Ya!"

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press