Central Michigan Football Attendance Numbers Not Reaching D-I Standards
Fans and critics of the Central Michigan football team have long doubted attendance numbers announced during games.
It turns out they’re right.
The athletic department has inflated attendance numbers announced to fans and media while expecting to report a number to NCAA about Division I status.
Athletics Director Dave Heeke expects that the attendance number submitted to the NCAA Feb. 15 will be lower than the 15,000 average attendance required to be Division I. Programs only have to hit that number once every two years.
“We won’t meet that number this year,” Heeke said. “But we’ve met it in the past. And forecasting for next year, we will meet it in the future.”
Heeke is confident CMU will reach that 15,000 benchmark during next season’s seven-game home schedule that includes Michigan State, Navy and Western Michigan. That still leaves several Mid-American Conference games left to be scheduled, which could include mid-week games that crippled the attendance average last year.
Inflating the announced attendance
Last season CMU inflated attendance figures given to the media, placed in the official game summary and presented on the scoreboard during games.
Athletics announced an average attendance of 15,291 for the five home games. The average paid attendance was 4,473.
“All too often I get a chuckle when the answer to the attendance trivia question is shown on the big screen,” said season ticket holder Brian Roberts. “There are rarely as many bodies in the stadium as it says.”
The attendance numbers included tickets given away for free, regardless of whether the person who received the ticket attended the game, Heeke said.
This created a higher attendance number than actually at the game.
“I would not say it’s a false number,” Heeke said. “I would say it’s the number of tickets distributed for the game.”
Heeke said the band, cheerleaders, working staff and possibly even players were counted in the total attendance.
“They’re a part of the game,” he said. “They’re at the game, observing the game. A lot of people do that.”
The NCAA bylaws state in the Division I manual:
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124 Noncounted Students. Student-athletes and cheerleaders scheduled by the institution to be at the game and students performing services at the stadium (e.g., concessionaires, ticket takers, parking-lot attendants, ushers, groundskeepers) shall not be counted toward meeting the attendance requirements.
“When you count attendance the way we count it, you can count all those people,” Heeke said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not counting it by NCAA rules.”
When CMU sends its certified attendance numbers to the NCAA it will not include the distributed tickets that did not enter the game, Heeke said, adding that some of the student groups would not be counted by the auditors for the NCAA certified numbers, but he wasn’t sure which ones.
“I think we’re going to be significantly less than the total announced attendance numbers,” Heeke said of the NCAA certified attendance.
In information Central Michigan Life received from a Freedom of Information Act request, CMU sold a total of 22,366 tickets last season, but announced attendance was 76,456.
One reason Heeke cited for not releasing the more accurate number was because it takes hours after the game to get a precise, certified number.
There are workers with clickers at the gate counting how many people enter. Athletics counts that clicker number, the other groups like bands, cheerleaders and staff, along with the tickets distributed into the announced attendance.
When asked if CMU could combine the clicker totals together for a more accurate number during the game, he said, “We can do that. We’ve elected not to.”
“We’re trying to get as many people in there at the game,” Heeke said. “We probably average 6-10 thousand at a game.”
Next year CMU will go to scanners to count tickets instead of clickers. Heeke said he expects it will give a more accurate number faster, but he still does not know what will go into account when athletics announces an “official” attendance during the game.
Giving away tickets
While students enter the game for free, many other community members also enter games without charge through free tickets distributed in the area.
“We’ve tried to pump those tickets out in the market hoping those people will make a decision to come to the game,” Heeke said. “We go to corporate partners, large groups, schools, military night. We’re actively putting a lot of tickets in people’s hands.
“There’s no secret, they don’t (go). And they haven’t,” he said.
CMU athletics had to give away free tickets to thousands in the community to try to fill the stands. Only 29 percent of the inflated, announced attendance throughout the season actually paid to enter the gates of Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
“That is the reality of the situation,” Heeke said. “We have to drive people into the game.”
Alumnus Rudy Mayon went to the game against Ohio for free through a friend who received a ticket working at Meijer, 1015 E. Pickard St. CMU said 12,127 fans were there but Mayon, who sat on the sideline of the game, thinks otherwise.
“I wouldn’t think so,” Mayon said when asked if thought that number was accurate. “I put a lot of money on it. I would say maybe 7,500 (in attendance).”
Heeke said he doesn’t believe giving away mass amounts of free tickets is unfair to season ticket holders. He said they get other benefits such as designated seating. They’re committed to the program and want to see it grow, he said.
When asked about the low student turnout Heeke questioned the value of “free.”
“Some people, maybe me, debate the value of free,” he said. “Free tells you what the product is worth. There’s no investment, so if you’re feeling iffy about going, you don’t go.”
There have been no talks of charging students, though.
NCAA rules regarding attendance
If CMU does not average an attendance of 15,000 next year, it will not meet the Division I requirements.
So what would happen?
The NCAA Division I manual states if a member does not meet the requirements it will be given a noncompliance notification. Any further noncompliance will lead to a 10-year period of restricted membership.
“There have been people in the past that haven’t met that number and nothing’s really happened,” Heeke said.
CMU would not be eligible to play any postseason game if restricted. After a year the institution could be put in a subdivision based on the subdivision’s criteria.
“If we cannot meet that minimum, it speaks volumes of how committed our fans are,” Heeke said. “People need to decide how committed they are.
“That’s the reality of our program right now. Not the best spot to be in.”
Editor’s note: Central Michigan Life has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the actual attendance numbers which will be sent to the NCAA.