This past Monday night, the men’s basketball team played in unfamiliar territory at the Hardin Simmons gym. Also unfamiliar was the packed gym of purple, cheering for the Wildcats. Wildcat Reign has helped foster student attendance and involvement at sporting events; the athletic department sponsors tailgates involving clubs and giveaways for anyone in attendance. So why does Moody Coliseum feel so empty?
The issue is a double-edged sword: firstly, not since the 1970s have athletics been an integral part of ACU. Secondly, our facilities are not made for a 4,000-student university.
You can count on one hand the times Moody has been overflowing in the last few years (excluding Sing Song): when they announced the move to division 1 and when Kent Brantly spoke.
Sing Song, Homecoming and Summit regularly fill Moody to an impressive capacity but that’s not what the athletics department, or even the school at this point, keep pressing. These events are great, but seem to have taken a backseat to new facilities, student crowds and fundraising goals.
The men’s basketball team averages just over 900 people a game this season. At the aforementioned game down the road at HSU? 1,075 people. The difference in the atmosphere and crowd noise was palpable. At Moody, 1,000 or even 1,200 people just looks and feels measly.
For the women’s team, who’s maintained a place in the mid-major top 25 teams, they don’t even average 1,000 people a game. These attendance numbers include season-ticket holders, which is easily several hundred people. Fact is more students still need to show up to games.
With a new (much needed) football stadium on the horizon, one has to wonder how many people will show up. The stadium is projected to seat 8,500 people, “with overall space for about 12,000 people” according to the Vision in Action page. Last fall, the average attendance at Shotwell was reported at just over 5,000.
ACU is built on Christian and Southern traditions, two things that don’t change overnight-or even over several years. The new focus and push for all things athletics leaves a gap between what has been and is at the heart of ACU to what the university wants it to be. This growth, success and money are all promising things for the university but it needs to align itself between encouraging the current and embracing the new, a tricky balance to hold.
$55 million is a lot of money. 12,000 people is a lot of people. But the Hardin Simmons game showed that our ever-improving sports teams, backed by faithful fans in purple, CAN fill the new facilities.