Women’s basketball attendance improving, but isn’t quite good enough yet

Last March, while the men’s basketball team made noise across Southwest Florida for making it to the NCAA tournament, the women missed  it by just six points.
After being crowned Atlantic Sun regular season champions, the Florida Gulf Coast University women’s basketball team fell to Stetson in the conference tournament final, 70-64.

The day before the men took on Georgetown in their NCAA tournament debut and picked up the nickname “Dunk City,” the women dropped their matchup against Winthrop in the first round of the WNIT at Alico Arena.
A hype-filled season with a dream to recapture the magic of last March died last weekend after a disappointing conference final that would have sent “Dunk City” to the NCAA Tournament. This weekend, the women’s team hosted their own conference tournament at Alico Arena.
In my entire time at this school, I have never been embarrassed of the FGCU student body (no, not even the “f*** UF” chant) until this weekend.
My embarrassment had nothing to do with the quality of basketball the Eagles played this weekend — just the opposite. Instead, I was embarrassed of the student support.
As usual, Alico’s reserved seating sections were packed full of supportive and cheering fans, but as usual, not many were FGCU students.
Despite heavy advertising (and even a contest offering $100) from the Dirty Birds and the Athletics department, fewer than 100 students occupied the student section of Alico Arena on Saturday afternoon. One week earlier, a sold-out crowd squeezed into every possible space for the men’s semifinal against ETSU.
On Sunday, the women’s basketball team took on Stetson in a deja-vu A-Sun championship final. This time around, the Eagles claimed their revenge, the championship title and the automatic bid to “The Big Dance.”
In the men’s Atlantic Sun title game, the crowd drowned out Mercer supporters when Alico set a new attendance record of 4,702 in their 13th sellout crowd of the season. The women set their fifth-highest home attendance of 1,821 in the same title game.
Just like Mercer did for their win over the FGCU men’s team, Stetson brought its own student section, basketball band and cheerleaders. Every time Stetson players made a three — pointer, the crowd exploded. That’s because Stetson’s students, band and cheerleaders were louder and rowdier than our students.
Last semester, I wrote about the need for more student support at the women’s basketball games. While Sunday’s win brought more than this season’s average attendance, the attendance from students was unacceptable for a conference championship game with an NCAA bid on the line. The women deserve more respect and support from their peers and a college team deserves a crowd with more Dirty Birds than snow birds. On Saturday, the FGCU women’s basketball team will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to play in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State. I don’t expect the full student body to hop on a plane and head to Indiana, but I expect a majority to tune in to ESPN2 to watch.