Grayson Joslin is a second-year journalism and political science major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
I have been going to Ball State University games since I was 10.
I was born in Muncie and grew up in New Castle. Ball State has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember, and I take great pride and passion in this school and our teams.
I vividly remember the first game I saw; we were playing South Florida in October 2012. Keith Wenning and Willie Snead were tearing up the Bulls’ defense en route to a 31-27 triumph that day. That was the first time I got to experience the magic of college football, live and in living color.
On Saturdays, there is no other place I would want to be than at Scheumann Stadium. The atmosphere of going to a college football game is one that leaves me without any words; it truly is a cathartic experience and gives me time to forget about life.
Something else stood out to me that day that would remain a constant in the Cardinal football games I went to, up until the present – empty, aluminum seats baking in the sunlight, waiting for ravenous fans to fill Scheumann Stadium.
And it seems like old habits die hard.
The attendance totaled 10,012 at Scheumann Stadium Oct. 3 as Ball State got past Northern Illinois 44-38 in double overtime for their second win of the 2022 campaign.
You may think it is a good number for a Ball State game, however, that is only 44 percent of Scheumann’s listed capacity of 22,500.
The last time a Ball State football game got filled to 75 percent capacity was on Nov. 25, 2008, when the Scheu was filled over capacity with 23,861 people seeing the #15 Cardinals cruise past Western Michigan 45-22. The Cardinals competed a 12-0 regular season that night.
There are definitely not many butts in seats when the Cardinals enter the battlefield; the average attendance for Ball State’s football games last season was 11,530 - only 51 percent of capacity.
I have been staring at these vacant seats for far too long.
Our football team deserves our undivided attention because if the seats at Scheumann Stadium keep staying empty come Saturdays, there is a serious chance we might not get to be in the top level of college football anymore.
Fifteen thousand people. That is the average, over a two-year period, that the NCAA asks for its Division I - Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) if it wants to stay in the top flight.
All the big schools, the big bowl games, the College Football Playoff - that is all part of the FBS. The FBS makes big money for the NCAA and is the most visible part of college sports.
In the 2021 football season, 19 teams didn’t meet the requirement of 15,000 spectators on average - Ball State’s was the eighth worst of 131 teams.
Ball State’s pitiful attendance has been some of the worst in Division I FBS - it was the worst in the nation for three years running (2016-2018) and has been consistently in the cellar for attendance average as far back as the 2013 season.
But yet, we haven't been given our eviction notice.
Why is that?
I contacted the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis to ask them why the attendance requirement hasn’t been enforced; I have not gotten a response by publication. With the onset of the pandemic, the NCAA passed a resolution waiving the attendance requirement until the 2022-23 school year.
It is unclear if the NCAA will enforce the rule again, but on a whim, those in power in the Circle City could send Ball State and many other schools back down to Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Ball State’s attendance would actually flourish if sent down to FCS. In that hypothetical scenario, our 2021 attendance average would be the 15th best in FCS.
However, I don’t want that hypothetical to become reality. It should have happened by now, but it hasn’t. This inaction means the faithful of Cardinal Country have the chance to redeem themselves of the past decade-plus of indifference.
But I hear, “Why do I care about what division our team is in?” The simple truth is this; FCS is simply less prestigious than FBS.
FBS teams get all the big television deals and coverage. FBS is more commercialized, and therefore more coveted. And for most colleges, their football program is the pride of their athletic program, and in some cases, their whole university.
I cannot speak on behalf of the thousands of fellow Cardinals attending the school with me right now on why they don’t go to the games. ESPN’s Ryan McGee put “Baller State” as the eighth-worst football program in FBS right now; a probable reason as to why students are not attending games.
The fact of the matter is clear; by not showing up and cheering on your Cardinals, we are not giving our team the home-field advantage they deserve when they come out of that tunnel. If we don’t have the people there to support us, do we even deserve a football team? Do we even deserve to be considered a Division I school?
We have been outclassed by almost every FBS school, numerous FCS schools and even some Division II schools in the past. In 2018 Morehouse, a Division II school, had an average of 12,037 fans per game. Ball State, on the other hand, only had an average attendance of 10,288 fans per game that same season.
This lethargy and lack of school spirit is disappointing.
We Cardinals are supposed to live by the ideals of Beneficence and show support to our community; however, we don’t give our football team, the kingpin of our athletic program (much less the rest of our amazing student-athletes) the time of day to support them.
Shame on us. Shame on this community for not stepping up as the motivation and support for our fighting Cardinals.
Pete Lambo, then-head coach of the Cardinals, said it best in 2011: “We have thousands of alumni that live within 90 minutes of campus. While Muncie is not a metropolis and Ball State is not Alabama, there is no reason why we should not expect to draw 15,000 fans to a football game.”
Seeing our football team, who pour out countless hours of their blood, sweat, toil and tears to compete out on that field, doing what they love, to hear a muted reaction and see empty aluminum seats is shameful to us as a fan base.
Where were all those fans who helped cheer us on from their television sets when we won our first bowl game in 2020, and we ended the season ranked 23rd in the nation?
It seems to me, from the difference in crowd sizes, that some Ball State students only care when their football team is competitive; hence the last game at three-fourths capacity when we were nationally ranked.
The best college programs and professional teams have those die-hard fans.
These fans are there through the mountains of success and the valleys of regression. I know that we can have that tradition of loyal fans; however, we need to change the culture of supporting our teams.
We must support our football team and all of our athletic programs for that matter, throughout the good and the bad.
For you, the fan, should have the same goal as the student-athlete out on the field; “Bring glory to your name” – the name of Ball State.
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslinw.