CBKB: UConn fans take NCAA title in stride
Associated Press Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. — It isn't that UConn fans aren't excited about the team's seventh national championship, but for many, the novelty has worn off.
There were no big bonfires or impromptu parades on campus Tuesday night after the Huskies beat Stanford, 53-47 for their second consecutive undefeated season. Only about 650 people showed up to watch the televised game at UConn's Gampel Pavilion, the school's on-campus arena that seats just under 10,200 fans.
"I was kind of surprised because I came last year and I think it seemed a little bit more full," said Sam Simons, 19, a sophomore. "I think people feel sometimes they don't even have to watch the women's games because they already know what's going to happen, but this was the national championship."
Between 1997 and 2005, UConn sold out 89 consecutive regular-season women's games at Gampel. They also sold out 28 straight games at Hartford's XL Center — with a capacity of more than 16,000 — between 2000 and 2004.
This season, despite the publicity generated by their record-setting winning streak, UConn managed just four sellouts. Three of those came at Gampel against Top 25 opponents North Carolina, Notre Dame and St. John's. The other was the first meeting with Stanford on Dec. 23 in Hartford, after the school began offering 2-for-1 ticket discounts.
Sports bars say they also saw fewer women's basketball fans this season.
Tim Howley, a co-owner of Rookies in Cromwell, said he thinks there are a lot of factors involved.
"Back when they first started winning, the economy was better, people were out spending money, a lot of factors were different," he said. "We still get a good crowd for the UConn women in March, but you do hear people complaining, 'God, they just blow everybody out.'"
Many fans said that's one reason attendance is down. UConn has won its games during the streak by an average of more than 33 points — many games were blowouts by halftime.
Some fans say they believe female athletes get less attention than the men's team.
"I think it's just because they're women. It's horrible. I mean, the guys lost (in the Big East tournament) and yet they got bigger pictures in the paper than when the girls won the thing. It's just ridiculous," said Katelyn Pellin, 20, a sophomore. "A lot of people don't care about the women. They care a ton about the men even though they were horrible this season."
The state has held a parade for the Huskies each time they have won a national championship. On Wednesday, UConn fans will greet the team at Bradley airport and a rally has been planned at Gampel Pavilion at about 5:30 p.m.
Last year, private fundraisers stepped in to cover most of the $50,000 cost, and a parade route was shortened from the traditional trek through Hartford. Police estimated the crowd at about 25,000, well short of the 300,000 people who in 2004 celebrated the duel championships won by the UConn men and women.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has said the drop in attendance at games is something that concerns him, and he thinks the school could do more to market the program.
But, he has said he is not concerned about pleasing the casual fan.
"It's like ice hockey," he said before the Final Four. "Does the casual fan enjoy ice hockey? Probably not. But ice hockey fans love ice hockey. We are who we are, and we attract who we attract and we'll go with that."