CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THE OTHER DAY a man on Twitter said he was attending a WVU women's basketball game."I don't want to get yelled at by [Mountaineer coach Mike] Carey," he tweeted.In case you missed it, Carey went off on his school's fans after a men's crowd of 11,631 for the Virginia Tech game dwindled to a mere 1,629 for the women's contest with St. Bonaventure.The Mountaineer men's team is struggling mightily at 5-5. The women's team was 7-2 before Thursday's game against Duquesne and is ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 20 in the coaches' poll."I want to thank the people who stayed after the men's game and shame on the people who didn't," Carey said that day. "I am so tired of this stuff - so tired of it."He went on."I'm from West Virginia too and this is ridiculous. How do you think it is to try and get our girls up when the arena is cleared? This is ridiculous."He went on and on."I can say [expletive] about West Virginia because I'm from West Virginia. If [fans] don't like it, tough. My office is right over here in the practice facility and I'm more than happy to talk to anybody because it's ridiculous."Initially, the old Styx song lyric came to mind: Why must you be such an angry young man when your future looks quite bright to me?But a look at the facts explains some of Carey's frustration. Before the Duquesne game, WVU's women were drawing an average of 1,606 fans in four home games.
Although the season is still in its infant stages, that marks a decrease from last season's average of 2,224, when the team was 24-10, and yet another from the previous season's average of 3,103, when the team was also 24-10.Of course, we're nitpicking. Even 3,103 in the Coliseum feels like a gym class.So, what's the deal?One reader who commented on Carey's remarks said this: "Dude, it's WOMEN'S basketball. No one watches that. If you want people to stay and watch something else, the NCAA should take up roller derby."
More than a bit crass, yes, but it's pretty clear WVU fans aren't much interested unless the women's team is a national contender and/or has a star like Baylor's Brittney Griner. That's just the way it is here. Embrace it or not.And don't kid yourself. Mountaineer fans keep up with their program's news. They appreciate when the women's team is highly ranked. But they haven't fallen in love because of the NCAA tournament results. Usually, it's win a game, lose a game and go home.
Within the women's college ranks there's always a few dominant teams like Connecticut, Tennessee and now Stanford and Baylor. After, there's a second tier. Carey has done a fine job getting WVU there, but it's clearly not enough to draw fans.Check history. A few years back, the Mountaineer women were 29-6 - 29-6! - yet averaged 1,947 per home game. A couple seasons before that, when the team was 25-8, WVU drew an average of 2,671.Also, Carey's current team took a hit when Asya Bussie, the 6-foot-4 center who was an all-Big East first-team co-captain, suffered a season-ending knee injury - before the season began. WVU fans heard and took note.One also has to consider that WVU fans aren't in the best of moods of late. The football team took a swan dive into the Pinstripe Bowl. The men's basketball team is as far away from that 2010 Final Four team as I am from dating Katy Perry and retiring to Boca Raton.
There's also WVU's overall basketball tradition and attendance figures. Men's coach Bob Huggins recently said his team might as well play on the road early because it's still football season in the Mountain State until December. He's right.In addition, the Mountaineer men drew but 4,982 for Wednesday's 9 p.m. game against Oakland. In three home games, they are averaging but 8,048. Last season, with a 19-14 record, the men averaged but 9,930 fans. That ranked No. 41 among Division I schools.Do you know the last time the WVU men's program had an attendance figure that ranked among the nation's Top 25? Try 1982, when the school averaged 11,384 for a 27-4 team and finished No. 24 among attendance leaders.In 2010, when WVU's men's team soared to a 31-7 record, the average home attendance in Morgantown was 12,377. Arkansas was the nation's No. 25 attendance leader at 13,182.The Big Ten led the country last season in men's basketball attendance with an average crowd of 12,868. The Big 12, WVU's new conference, was third with an average of 11,057.One could point to the national average. There were 338 Division I schools that averaged 5,190 fans. Overall, the average was 4,994. So WVU fares well there.But look to the west. Kentucky averaged 23,721 last season. Up north, Syracuse averaged 23,618.So for Huggins, the best advice is to focus on building a power. If you build it, the fans will come. Here, the egg comes before the chicken. That's the way it is.Last year, there were five schools that had attendance jump by at least 2,000 fans per game. The most notable was Creighton, which jumped 3,157 via a 29-win season and the emergence of All-America standout Doug McDermott.A sparkling new practice facility should help both Huggins and Carey recruit.As for Carey, well, try building that power. WVU has never had a true national championship contender in women's basketball. There's no history and no attendance figures with which to compare.What we do know is women's basketball - including Top 25 teams - doesn't draw well in the Mountain State.It might be ridiculous. But it's a fact.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.