BOZICH | Where have the SEC basketball fans gone (Kentucky exclu - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Where have the SEC basketball fans gone (Kentucky excluded)?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Get excited, LSU. Just once.

You've got the best high school player in America coming to Baton Rouge and ESPN's Joe Lunardi has you as one of the last four teams in his 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket.

Go crazy, Alabama. I know you stumbled against South Carolina the other night, but you beat UCLA and Arizona State and played Wichita State to the wire. And, hey, Kentucky is coming to town. I'll beat John Calipari to it: It's Super Bowl Saturday.

Wake up, Vanderbilt. Wasn't it just the other day when ESPN brought its entire College GameDay operation to Nashville? You're not like those other SEC stops. You're a basketball school, Vandy.

Jump up and down, Florida. Your team is starting to get healthy and you've got one of the best coaches … oh, never mind. I know better than to expect a sustained basketball obsession from the Gators. Not gonna happen.

But I am worried about the species known as the SEC Basketball Fan.

The species is continuing to disappear.

Check the turnstile counts around the league. I have.

Basketball attendance across the SEC is down – again.

It's not an alarming number, a decline of 78 fans per game, from 10,353 last season to 10,275 this season.

No big deal.

As a single-game snapshot, you're correct. It is no big deal. But open the lens a little wider. Attendance last season was down 218 per game from 2013. And attendance in 2013 was down 942 per game from 2012.

That's a decrease of 10.8 percent in three seasons.

The current average (10,275, remember) would be the smallest total for the league in three decades. Average SEC hoops attendance in 1985 was 10,041.

Here's a more alarming nugget: Attendance is down at least 900 fans per game at eight SEC schools.

Those declines range from 907 at Alabama to 1,954 per game at Missouri. The other six SEC schools leaking interest are Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU , Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Of course, six schools are enjoying increases. The gains range from modest (129 per game at Georgia) to dazzling (1,744 at Auburn, where Bruce Pearl has yet to take off his shirt and paint his face, I think).

Without Kentucky, the numbers would be legitimately frightening. UK attendance has improved by 242 fans per game to 23,206.

Think of it this way: Kentucky averages as many fans for one game as half the teams in the league (LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn and A&M) do for three games.

The gap between the Wildcats and Arkansas, No. 2 in SEC attendance, is 8,367 fans per game.

Give yourself a standing ovation, Kentucky fans. You've earned it.

Now, back to the decline.

What's going on here?

The topic is worth a five-part series, but I'll limit myself to several paragraphs.

Attendance has also softened a bit in football, too. Tickets are pricey. Lives are complicated. There are more replays and fewer hassles watching the games on television. It's easier to Tweet, text, change channels and disengage from blowouts at home.

The SEC Network has increased the league's exposure while tempting even the committed basketball fan to remain in his or her easy chair.

All valid points.

Maybe the numbers will increase with conference play underway and football season over. I wrote that sentence convinced that the second reason was considerably more noteworthy than the first.

I listened to about an hour of the Paul Finebaum Show on Sirius/XM radio Wednesday afternoon. (Hey, I was stuck in traffic. It isn't a habit.)

Nobody asked Finebaum about John Calipari's decision to move Dominique Hawkins into the starting lineup Tuesday or about Kentucky's overtime victories against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

One caller was still trying to argue that Alabama was better than Ohio State – and I don't believe he meant that Anthony Grant's team was better than Thad Matta's Buckeyes. Another caller complained about the Big Ten.

In Kentucky, you can talk or write about basketball 52 weeks a year – and I hope that never changes. In the 13 other SEC markets, I fear the window when basketball gets its fair share of publicity is about 52 hours.

This season, it still hasn't opened.

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