Ryan Koechig returns with Part 2 in a look at the attendance problems afflicting the men’s program at Drexel and at some of the variables that may be causing them.
When I wake up, when I roll out of the sack,
I’m gonna be the one who joins up with the Pack
When I go out, well I know I’m gonna slack,
I’m gonna ditch class and head on over to the DAC
Back in the halcyon days of the Association, when men were real men, women were real women and smooshed, snowy suit jackets under a bus were real smooshed, snowy suit jackets under a bus, there was been a theory tossed about (here, here, here and here) that if only Drexel played conference opponents that were closer to Drexel, that would translate into higher attendance figures at the DAC (or maybe it was the need for a better library). So the question is, does evidence exist to back this theory?
In the beginning, Drexel moved up to Division 1. This has made many people indifferent and been widely regarded as a “meh” move
If you go to the “School Index” at Sports Reference’s College Basketball site, and sort to rank the oldest men’s programs, you may not be surprised to find Temple University listed at #4 and a start year of 1895. They’ve played the 7th most games and have the 6th most wins of any men’s program. Listed at #5, also with a 1895 starting year, was another Philadelphia school, known then as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry. Those two programs happened to meet in their first year of existence, it was a beatdown:
First ever City of Philadelphia men’s college basketball champions, suck it Big Five!
Of course, the two programs ended up on completely divergent paths. Temple would go on to win the inaugural NIT tournament in 1938, a year before the NCAA tournament was founded in 1939, and teamed up with those other four Philadelphia area colleges for an intra-city round robin schedule, while Drexel slipped into anonymity, ultimately finding itself in the lower College Division of the NCAA governing structure while the other five would compete in the higher University Division. Those paths would reconverge, however, during the restructuring of the NCAA into the divisions that we know today in 1973. The former College Division split into Divisions II and III, while Drexel moved up to the rechristened Division I – the former University Division. Suddenly, Drexel found itself in a conference with Temple, St. Joe’s, LaSalle, Hofstra, American, Lafayette, Lehigh, Rider, Bucknell, Delaware and West Chester. That’s a slam dunk conference in terms of proximity (an average of less than 50 miles from the DAC for all schools) , and it stayed together until after the 81-82 season. We have attendance data for the last five years of that run:
Those numbers aren’t any better than what we’re drawing now. In fact, as the footprint of Drexel’s conference has expanded, so too has the average attendance the program has attracted to games, from roughly 800 in the dream conference (East Coast Conference) when we entered D1, to around 1850 during the CAA heydays. So it appears as though opponent distance doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in terms of getting butts in seats. But if you need more convincing, here’s a scatter plot of every home game in the past 17 years with attendance the y-axis and distance from the DAC as the x-axis:
Roughly 90% of the home games in that timeframe have come against teams located within 500 miles of the DAC, and as you can see by the trendline, distance doesn’t do anything to affect attendance. So if you want to make the argument that the CAA no longer makes sense for Drexel to be apart of due to its size, stretching from Boston to Charleston, be my guest. Just make sure you cite the financials of busing our non-basketball programs up and down the eastern seaboard over claiming basketball attendance would skyrocket if only we had, say, a Patriot League conference home slate to “market.”