If Southeast's official attendance number seems larger...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

More than a few Southeast Missouri State University basketball fans probably leave the Show Me Center wondering why the announced attendance always seems to be considerably higher than the number of people they thought were actually sitting with in the stands.

The explanation, according to Southeast sports information director Ron Hines -- who is responsible for filling in the final attendance figure on the official box score following each home game -- is that official attendance figures take into account many more variables than simply those fans who actually occupy seats.

Hines said Southeast's official attendance total consists of all tickets that have been acquired for a particular game, either tickets sold or tickets distributed to Southeast students that are always free --whether the person who received the ticket shows up at the contest or not.

"That includes any ticket that has been issued, including season tickets, individual tickets purchased in advance, walk-up trade, tickets that have been discounted in some way, students who have picked up their tickets either in advance or at the door," Hines said. "Those all count in the attendance figure whether they go to the game or not."

The fact is, said Hines, since Southeast's men's basketball team has struggled the last few years, a lot of people with tickets simply don't always use them for every game. And a lot of students who might pick up tickets intending to go to a contest wind up changing their plans.

"We have 2,032 season tickets sold for this year, which is the highest in the Ohio Valley Conference, and that's not taking into account people who get tickets on a game-by-game basis," Hines said. "Frankly, lots of people just aren't using their tickets."

Also bumping up the official attendance figure for every game, said Hines, is the fact Southeast counts various people other than those holding tickets, including cheerleaders, spirit dancers, band members, media personnel, workers at the press and scorer's tables, Show Me Center workers, etc.

"Those numbers are estimated, and it usually comes to a few hundred," Hines said. "But tickets out for a particular game are not estimated. It is an actual count."

While the average fan might find it strange that Southeast includes the groups listed above in its attendance figures, officials at most of the other schools in the 11-member OVC said they do the same thing.

"It doesn't seem weird to me, because I've been doing it for 30 years," Hines said. "This is how we've always done it."

Most of the OVC schools, in fact, appear to base their official attendance figures on many of the same factors that Southeast does, although there are no strict guidelines mandated by either the OVC or the NCAA.

Ron English, the OVC associate commissioner for operations, said the league follows much the same attendance formula as Southeast does when it conducts its annual conference basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

"There is no one policy as to how everybody in the OVC should do it," English said. "What we do for our tournament, we check with the box office, get the figures for tickets sold, and we also account for others in the building like bands, cheerleaders, media, basically whoever else is in the building.

"I think it's probably fair to say that it's standard policy around the league."

Standard policy, according to the NCAA, is up to each school.

"During the regular season," NCAA spokesman Doug Johnson said, "we don't require them to do it any specific way as long as they are consistent game to game.

"Whether it's turnstiles, paid, everyone in the arena including players and officials, whatever way they want to count it. That's up to the school. Hopefully, they're staying consistent with the way they do it. However they do it is what we take."

Through the turnstiles

As one of the newest basketball arenas in the OVC, the Show Me Center has a turnstile count for every game, which should in theory be able to get fairly close to determining how many fans are actually occupying seats in the building.

But the turnstile count for the Jan. 22 game against Austin Peay that featured Southeast sports teams officially becoming Redhawks was just 4,282, although there appeared to be about 5,500 seats occupied in the 7,000-seat facility. The official attendance was listed as 6,607.

Southeast officials believe numerous students attended the pregame party at the Student Recreation Center and proceeded into the Show Me Center without actually being counted through turnstiles, although Show Me Center director David Ross questions that. In addition, a fairly large group of students from Blanchard Elementary School were ushered in by Southeast officials without going through turnstiles.

"Everybody who comes through the building is supposed to come through the turnstile. That's our policy," Ross said. "If the athletic department chooses to do something different, that's their choice."

Added Ross: "Even though there appeared to be more [in attendance for the Jan. 22 game], looks can be deceiving."

Said Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman: "I observed the crowd. I know what the capacity is. I panned the upper decks and the lower levels. If that's what they came up with, I don't know how to respond to that. If they feel there were only 4,284 in attendance, so be it, but just looking at the crowd, I'd say there were close to 6,000 there.

"I came from the Rec Center through the north entrance, and I didn't go through a turnstile. I just know there are people that don't go through the turnstiles."

Kaverman defended the way Southeast computes its official basketball attendance.

"Our announced attendance is not meant to be a turnstile count. It takes into account a lot of other factors," he said. "I don't feel we report our numbers different than anybody else does. I feel confident in what Ron's doing. He's been doing it a long time."

Through 10 home dates prior to Saturday night's contest against Samford, Southeast's official per-game attendance average was 3,564, which ranks third in the OVC. The turnstile count from the Show Me Center results in a per-game average of 2,078.

Hines said the attendance Southeast announces for each game is not meant to mislead the public, it's simply following policy the school has used for a long time, and that many other schools also appear to utilize.

"This is the way we've always done it," Hines said. "We're not trying to fool anyone. This is not done to mislead the public. We have no reason to mislead the public. Our attendance has been going down every year, and our ticket base is down. That's the bottom line."

Last season, Southeast's official attendance figure showed a per-game average of 3,813, and it has not been above 4,300 since the 2000-01 season, which also marked the program's last winning record.

In the three seasons from 1998 through 2001 -- when Southeast had a combined 62-28 record and made its only NCAA Division I tournament appearance -- the official per-game attendance never dipped below 5,000, with a high of 5,203.

"We haven't changed a thing in how we calculate attendance," Hines said. "It's just when there's more people in the stands, the discrepancy is less noticeable.

"Everything is somewhat subjective. You can't always have an accurate attendance. I'm not trying to inflate anything, I'm just trying to be as honest as possible with the guidelines we've always used."

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