Oh, for the days when UConn fans cared
Storrs — UConn loyalists, particularly the partakers of message boards and social media, aren't below poking fun at other fanbases throughout the country for what they might consider tepid support.
Note to all you Huskymaniacs:
Have you checked your own buildings lately?
Forget football for a minute. Because, you know, we purport to be some kind of basketball state.
This is what you would have seen had you been one of the few, the proud, to show up to Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.
Section 7: empty.
Sections 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14: empty.
Four fans in Section 1.
Four fans in Section 6.
Two more in Section 21.
Four fans in Section 205.
Official attendance: 3,808.
The smallest crowd at Gampel that didn't involve a snowstorm or the National Invitational Tournament that any of UConn's veteran beat writers can remember.
This much we know: Columbia on a Wednesday night isn't all that sexy. But if nothing else, the disconcerting attendance figure furthered the perception that the wheels of UConn sports still spin furiously, but with less and less traction. Women's basketball — its perch as a perpetual beacon of success notwithstanding — isn't any athletic department's torch carrier. When they stop caring about football and men's basketball, the residual effects are felt everywhere else.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie was asked about the small crowd after his team needed overtime to beat Columbia.
Ollie said his concerns are "getting healthy and winning games. I appreciate the 38 (hundred) who came. I'm not in charge of sales. I appreciate the fans who came. They were loud tonight. Make sure you write that. They were loud."
Except they weren't. We've all heard Gampel the passion pit before. This was more like Sunday morning than Saturday night.
Some of this is understandable to a point. The Huskies don't necessarily play a style that caves to aesthetics. It appears Ollie needs an offensive coordinator. Or a shooter. But there's something to be said about loyalty from your fans, especially when this team is 5-2, not 2-5.
And while crawling over broken glass to defeat Columbia might sound alarms, they did play without Alterique Gilbert and they might have rediscovered Mamadou Diarra on Wednesday night. Diarra, Gilbert, Terry Larrier, Jalen Adams and Christian Vital aren't such a terrible five, after all.
Oh, for the days when UConn fans cared. The days when they were haughty in victory and malicious in defeat.
Now they're just in witness protection.
The Huskies spent the weekend in Oregon, playing three games in four days. They flew home late Sunday. It wasn't a stunning upset that they played in a malaise for a while Wednesday night. They could have used some energy in their home building.
Know what they got?
It gets you thinking that maybe UConn fans are the frauds that all the Syracuse, Nova, Georgetown and Providence people (among others) think they are.
Then there's this: What if, for the sake of discussion, a potential prized recruit happened to be at Wednesday's game?
He might have wondered: Why would I ever want to play here? Maybe some other school I'm considering has a home gym with some juice?
Thus far this season, the men have played two home games at Gampel and two games at the XL Center. They have drawn 10,962 fans (and 9,372 empty seats) at Gampel and 11,739 fans (and 19,389 empty seats) in Hartford.
That's a joke.
Not to be alarmist here, but that's the stuff that gets coaches fired. Athletic directors can rationalize losing: We're young, we had injuries, blah, blah, blah. But they have a harder time dealing with apathy. This is an athletic department that, without Power 5 income, needs every dime.
What's the answer? The easiest: Win more games. But it's also on Ollie — and his superiors to perhaps make him see the light — to sell the program a little more. It's sort of amazing that Ollie could have spent all those years around Jim Calhoun and not figured out the charm. Sure, Calhoun won games. But he was a master salesman, always knowing when the cameras were rolling. Frankly, Ollie's penchant to be standoffish is hurting his program.
Ollie can say he's "not in charge of sales," but he needs to be more of a salesman. He also needs to recruit better players. But in the meantime, he's in charge of a product that needs to be sold. UConn basketball isn't UConn basketball right now. Exactly 6,359 empty seats proved as much Wednesday night.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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