Throughout Mizzou Arena, a sparse crowd awaited a game between the Missouri (12-3) and Baylor (9-12) on Feb. 16.
MU fans have gotten used to watching mediocre teams since the inception of the Big 12 Conference in 1996. But even most fans didn’t know MU had won only two Big 12 titles in 20 sports.
“That does surprise me,” said Lewis Miller, a season-ticket holder who arrived at his second-row seat well before the game. “I don’t think we can play to the caliber of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska in all sports, but I thought we would have more than two.”
Helen Feldker, who also sat in the lower bowl of seats, agreed.
“In all sports, they would have a little bit more than that, I would think,” she said.
And the surprise wasn’t confined to the expensive seats. David Williams, sitting in the upper deck, and was taken aback.
“You’d think a college team would win more than that,” he said.
Feldker and Williams both said they wouldn’t withdraw support of MU athletics because of on-field struggles, but some fans have thought about it or are in the process of doing so.
“I’ve thought about doing that off and on from the middle to the end of a lot of seasons,” Miller said. “I thought about doing that last football year. But then I always come back. A lot of them don’t. I’m a diehard fan … I haven’t withdrawn my support yet, I’m not saying I will, but I think about it a lot.”
Half an hour before the game, most of the seats around Miller were still empty, and a couple of hours later, long before the game’s outcome had been decided, they emptied again.
Miller said he could understand why other fans have lost enthusiasm.
“(College athletics are) all about the dollar,” he said. “So that forces fans to leave the games early; they don’t have the spirit. They pay big money…and then they get a second-class team.”
George Perry, a fan from Appleton City, explained in the concourse how he had taken his frustration a step further.
“I’m in the process of writing my letter right now to the curators,” he said. “We need to start with the athletic director and clean house. Start with the athletic director and let the new one decide what he needs to do.
“We have a severe attitude problem that starts with the athletic director all the way through the whole athletic department.”
Perry went on to explain what the problem was.
“The leadership comes from the athletic director’s office and when the whole athletic department is operating from an arrogant, get-out-of-my-way attitude that carries over to lack of production on the court,” he said. “It carries over to lack of interest in the stands.”
Athletic director Mike Alden declined comment for this story.
Earlier, as the band played the Missouri fight song and students cheered and clapped, Miller compared Missouri fans’ woes to those of Major League Baseball’s long-time losers, the Chicago Cubs.
“Cub fans are die-hard; they love the Cubbies, from Ernie Banks in the old days to Sammy Sosa, and they never get to the World Series,” Miller said. “It’s sort of like, Norm (Stewart), bless his heart, had good teams but never got to the Final Four.”
Perry has a different take on MU fans.
“I think that if you take a look at most of these here fans, I think you’ll find that as long as we put a competitive, hard-working product on the floor, regardless of what sport it’s in, they’ll give support.”
Bob Steffes of Jefferson City, a season-ticket holder in the upper deck, also wondered why Tiger teams haven’t done well.
“The facilities should be bringing in top-quality athletes, you would assume anyway,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with recruiting or coaching philosophy. But then we’ve got all these top-notch coaches and they haven’t been able to put it together.”
Miller said it won’t be a quick fix.
“If the fans get mad, and they fire Alden and Quin and Pinkel, then what do you do?” Miller said. “Get a new (athletic director), a new football coach, a new basketball coach and it takes another four years to rebuild our program. It’s just Missouri tradition. It’s something in the Missouri River drinking water. I don’t know why.”