Washington State has struggled to put a big crowd inside Friel Court for its 2011-12 basketball season — the largest gathering was 5,218 last week for Arizona State — and even with Washington as Saturday’s opponent that trend could continue.
Some roads outside Pullman were closed at mid-day because of accidents due to a couple of inches of snow blown by high winds. That could discourage the discretionary fan from attending the 5 p.m. game.
But there figures to be a healthy student crowd, and many of those kids have a story to tell. The WSU administration organized sanctioned camping outside Beasley Coliseum starting Friday night — the school strictly regulates it — and one student said there were 64 hardy groups there overnight.
The high winds hit in the wee hours, however, making the camping miserable. I was there at 10 a.m., and trust me, the conditions were beyond brutal. At 8 a.m., WSU president Elson Floyd called Jaime Seefried, assistant director of marketing and promotions, and gave her the go-ahead to allow students into the arena concourse, which wasn’t due to happen until mid-afternoon. So about 1 p.m., students who camped were checking in with marketing officials and allowed to take seats for a game that wasn’t due to start until 5.
Shortly after they took seats, a couple of hundred students were addressed briefly by Bill Moos, the WSU athletic director. He drew applause from them.
“I was in school here 40 years ago,” he said, “and nights like last night and what you’re going to do today are memories you’ll have forever. Let’s have a fun game and get after the Dawgs, all right?”
WSU adopted strict regulations — among them no alcohol or drugs — for the campout. The group I caught up included some of the officers in WSU’s Zzu Cru student section — Austin Carter, Chad Warren, Cole Atkinson, Rick Flores and Brad Anderson.
They said Floyd came by Friday night to greet them. Then the weather turned terrible in the night, and some students actually anchored their tents on top of themselves and slept that way, such as they could.
“It’s still a success,” said Warren. “We had 64 groups, and there were supposed to be six to a group, so that’s 300 people.
“This is like a tryout for football. Mike Leach (the new football coach) wants us to camp out for football.”
I asked these guys why they think the Cougars have had trouble drawing fans this season.
Carter noted that the Cougars “had a horrible preseason schedule.” Hard to argue with that — it consisted of Sacramento State, Grambling State, Eastern Washington, Santa Clara and Western Oregon.
“It’s hard to get the students out if they don’t want to be there,” added Warren.
Of course, this isn’t an exceptional team — 14-13 entering the UW game. Nor is the Pac-12 anything to write home about this year. WSU hosted the Oregon schools in Spokane Dec. 29 and 31 because there isn’t any point in playing then in Pullman, and the week in January the Bay Area schools were in town was when the winter’s worst snowstorm hit.
That helps explain the lack of a paying crowd. But you wonder what the students, most of whom have less than a half-mile walk to the arena, are thinking.
That doesn’t include those were went camping Friday night. The WSU marketers ought to give them some sort of commendation.