Well, we should have seen this one coming.
The TCU football brain trust, headed by fundraiser extraordinaire Chris Del Conte and engineered by gridiron guru Gary Patterson, has transformed the TCU program from mid-major to elite, complete with a soon-to-be sparkling new stadium and a ticket to the Big 12 Conference.
It takes an intelligent bunch to do that.
That is why it comes as no surprise that they have finally outsmarted themselves.
In an effort to create more of a home field advantage, TCU announced last week that the student section next year will be moved closer to the field, spanning across nine, 20-row sections behind the visitor’s bench.
It makes sense when you think about it. Putting students closer to the action and in the earhole of the opposition would create a louder, tougher environment for teams coming into the new Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Problem is, there is one glaring reason why it will not work: Who is going to fill the seats?
What? Thought the TCU students might actually fill the student section?
Let’s not be naïve.
Last September, the defending Rose Bowl champions played their home opener against Louisiana-Monroe in front of a half-full, half-asleep student section.
Same story three weeks later. The Frogs lost in overtime to crosstown rival SMU, but the majority of the student section had emptied out by the start of the third quarter.
Same goes for Senior Day last month against UNLV. The winningest class in school history was welcomed onto the home turf for the final time by about 200 students occupying the first four or five rows near the 20-yard line on the south end of the stadium.
From Del Conte to Patterson to the players to the trainers, and to anyone else remotely involved with the team, the TCU football program has been built to succeed not only on the field, but in the stands.
The students – for the most part – have not returned the favor.
Up until this point, the blame for that has been placed on the New Mexicos and Colorado States of the world, teams that provide little entertainment, or competition, to TCU.
But contrary to popular opinion, the Frogs’ new conference will not solve perpetual fan apathy. And even if it did, it still would not solve the biggest problem TCU faces when it comes to filling its student section.
TCU, a school of around 9,000, would need at least half of its students to be at every game next season to even have a chance of filling the student section.
You can’t beat math.
So, what does this all mean?
New stadium. New conference. Same old empty rows of bleachers in the student section. Except this time they will be scattered across prime rows of seating close to the field instead of near the top of the southeast side of the stadium, where the student section was formerly located.
The Big 12 may be a lot of things, but it is not a magic potion. TCU’s mere existence in the conference doesn’t put it on level ground with Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State when it comes to student population.
The only thing TCU students – and all fans, really – can control is passion, something that has already been brought into question on the national stage.
Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde, who has covered college football for more than 20 years, tweeted this about an hour after TCU’s 31-24 win over Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl last month, a game that saw an (announced) attendance of only 24,607:“TCU: small, apathetic fan base.”
Outrage ensued of course, but take a look at what that says.
Hard to argue with that. As the smallest school in the Big 12, that is an uphill battle TCU will have to get used to fighting.
It may be a bit harsh of an assessment, but can Frog fans prove Forde – and the rest of college football – wrong?
We will find out in September.
Ryan Osborne is a sophomore journalism major from Lawton, Oklahoma.