I was lucky enough to score a free ticket to the TCU game. I write for Clemson, Purdue and Kansas State, so I’m usually glued to my couch with one game on the TV and one on my laptop (depending on kick off times) but the weather was so perfect on Saturday and I couldn’t justify staying inside. I recorded my other games, and Sarah, Lily (wife and daughter) and I got out of the house early to enjoy the day.
It was a chamber of commerce day for Kansas State football.
The kick-off was at a reasonable time, the sky was blue, the temperature was fall perfection, and even the wind cooperated. On top of perfect conditions, the game was crucial for both squads. The Wildcats were looking to improve 4-2 and secure the first Big 12 win in the Klieman era and TCU was in desperate need of a victory after losing to Iowa State the week before. The teams were evenly matched, and properly motivated. I expected (and got) a close game.
We went to the Vet School tailgate in Cat Town and things were slow at first, but picked up as it got closer to game time. The food was good, the beer was cold, and everyone was having a good time. When kick-off neared, I said goodbye to Sarah and Lily and met up with my buddy who was providing the ticket. I was several beers deep, feeling good, and excited for the stadium atmosphere. There is something life affirming about a loud college football game. We got to our seats in the lower deck a little early, and I watched as the fans started to trickle into the stadium. I was expecting a big rush before kick to fill up the stadium and it never materialized. The student section was at least 1⁄4 empty, and the other side of the stadium wasn’t much better.
I was highly confused.
I attended Clemson from 1999-2003. This wasn’t the Dabo Swinney juggernaut Clemson Tigers, this was the 6-8 win Tommy Bowden, might beat Miami and then lose to Duke, Tigers. I sat through bad, frustrating, and occasionally soul crushing games during my time at Clemson, but no matter how bad the team, the stadium was always full. Now, I can’t guarantee that it didn’t empty out at half time on occasion, but there were no less than 75K in the stadium for any game. Conference games were always sold out. I assumed this was normal.
After Clemson, I moved to Knoxville, and even though I wasn’t (and am still not) a Tennessee fan, I made it to one or two games a season, because college football games are my idea of fun. The Volunteers were good during my stay in Knoxville, but even during my last year in town, where the Vols inexplicably went 5-6 after starting the season ranked 3rd, Neyland Stadium was always packed. I sat with 100,000 people and watched a 4-5 UT team lose to Vandy. Again, I assumed this was par for the college football course.
After a brief stay in Beaufort, South Carolina my wife and I moved to College Station, Texas and ended up stuck in that boiling hot, brown, treeless, arid hellscape for 7 years. There wasn’t much I didn’t loathe about College Station, but football games (and Aggies in general) were always a good time. Say what you will about Aggies, but they don’t lack in the passion and school spirit department. Texas A&M wasn’t stellar during many of those years (with the exception of the Manziel Heisman year) but Kyle Field was always filled to capacity, even when capacity expanded to 102K our last few years. This fit with my prior college football experience.
Now, back to last weekend.
I sat in my seat, waiting for the stadium to fill up, and it never did. I’ve been to a few K-State games where hypothermia was a legitimate concern, and low attendance was understandable, but there was no excuse for Saturday. Patches of stands at Bill Snyder Family Stadium were visibly empty, and even the more populated sections weren’t packed.
On top of the attendance issue, the atmosphere, was, honestly ... dead. I attended the Clemson vs Texas A&M game this year and never sat down when the Tigers were on defense, mainly because no one else sits down so if you want to see, you’ve got to stand up. When I got to my feet on K-State’s first defensive 3rd down and started yelling, I looked around, and the vast majority of my section were still glued to their seats. Most not even making noise. Several were either on their phones or chatting with their neighbor. My group was into the game, but I almost felt rude standing up and making noise. It felt like I was watching football in a library.
After halftime, things were even worse. The student section was more sparsely populated and the noise level dropped more. I swear I could hear the TCU quarterback audible out of plays. Even late in the 4th quarter, when TCU was trying to drive down the field and tie the game, the stadium was far from loud. I stopped standing up on 3rd down at one point in the 3rd quarter, because I felt like I was disturbing the people around me. I’ve never experienced that at a college football game.
I’m not writing this to disparage Kansas State football or Kansas State fans. I like the program, and I enjoy going to the games. The fans have been nothing but kind to me, even if I’ve scared a few people with my enthusiasm (it took me a while to get the feel of more small group, closed off tailgates, because that’s not at all like Clemson). I’m just confused.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re a K-State die hard, and you’re not the fans that I’m directing this towards, but what’s going on with Wildcat football games?
How is this team with a new coach, a winning record, and only 4 games into a sparse home schedule getting so little support?
This is the strangest bit of self-sabotage I’ve ever seen. The Wildcats are in desperate need of a recruiting boost, and the new staff is hustling and bringing in quality players, but I can’t imagine any 17-18 year old high school kid being impressed with the stadium atmosphere on Saturday. It was the perfect game for K-State to put their best foot forward and impress some players, but whatever happened on Saturday, outside of the win, wasn’t it.
Can any of you explain to a Wildcat outsider the apathy towards football in 2019?
Do you have any solutions to the problem or is this normal?
I can tell you one thing, if y’all have aspirations to be more than a middle of the pack Big 12 team fighting to get to seven wins, things need to change, and they need to change now. You can’t tie one hand behind Chris Klieman’s back and then get mad that he isn’t winning; and he’s going to struggle to win if Saturday is the best Wildcat fans can do.