Sprinkled in throughout the sea of red seats at Raymond James Stadium for USF’s homecoming game against East Carolina on Saturday was a fan base reminiscent of that of a high school football game.
Looking at the stands, one would expect USF (5-1, 2-0) to be at the bottom of the pack in not only the AAC, but the NCAA as well.
Playing in front of an embarrassing actual attendance of 16,585, according to the Tampa Sports Authority, the Bulls defeated ECU 38-22 to further their quest for a first-ever conference championship.
It was the least-attended USF homecoming game in the program’s 20-year history.
When it comes to not showing up, some may blame the noon kickoff. Others will point to the heat, which hovered around the high-80’s nearly all game.
But these are nothing more than excuses, and poor ones at that.
Just two years ago, when USF couldn’t even scratch and claw its way to a bowl game, students and fans pointed to losing as the reason people couldn’t be bothered to show their support.
The Bulls went 6-18 in coach Willie Taggart’s first two seasons and there was little reason for fans to get excited, let alone show up. But things have changed.
Now, USF is one game away from locking in a second consecutive bowl game appearance and is poised to compete for an AAC championship deep into the season.
Taggart and the Bulls have turned their fortunes around, but students and fans have yet to hold up their end of the bargain.
Three home games into 2016, it seemed as though USF support had turned the corner. An average of 34,226 people brought energy and life to a stadium too often devoid of it on Saturdays.
Those crowds were highlighted by record-breaking student turnout, which culminated with back-to-back home games (Weeks 2 & 4) of over seven thousand students in attendance, the most in four years.
For Saturday’s homecoming game, USF distributed 5,715 student tickets. Only a paltry 2,031 managed to make their way through the gates.
With such a stark contrast in attendance, it looks as if the student support was more due to securing tickets for the Bulls’ game against Florida State than excitement about the team.
USF allotted tickets for its game with FSU to students based on their attendance to the Bulls’ two preceding home games, and with the marquee matchup of the year now in its past, it’s clear as to why students were showing up in the first place.
Following USF’s win, players took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the support.
“We don’t care if there’s 2 people in the stands or 65,000. We’re coming to play every Saturday regardless. It don’t hurt to come support (though),” defensive end Vincent Jackson wrote on Twitter.
USF is playing its best football in nearly a decade and has a legitimate shot at hosting — and maybe even winning — the conference championship.
If this isn’t enough for fans to show up, they’ll be hard-pressed to ever find a reason to make it to games.
Saturday’s attendance, especially by students, was nothing short of an embarrassment punctuated by pathetic excuses.
It’s time to show up and support a team that deserves better.