On Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes football team welcomed the Iowa Hawkeyes in a gridiron battle. Iowa versus Ohio State elicits imagery of big offensive lines, putting your head down and running, and fervent fanbases. A capacity crowd of 102,780 people watched a game that was anything but one for the history books, unless Iowa’s 2022 mediocrity makes the record books, losing 54-10.
It was a game where beforehand there were folks probably wondering if they should go in the first place, but they did.
People attend football games because of the competition, the pageantry of the band marching onto the field and supporting their alma mater, or the school that represents their state. Also, all the comradery that comes with celebrating it all with thousands of like-minded people. It’s hard to argue against going, and that’s not what this article is about.
This is about the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team and head coach Kevin McGuff, who’s, in a way, hoping some of that same support can make the short trip down the street to the Schottenstein Center.
On Nov. 8, the No. 14 Scarlet & Gray welcome the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers to the Schottenstein Center. It’s the biggest game played for the team, at home, since before the pandemic. It features an SEC side that went 23-8 last year, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen, before losing to the University of Louisville.
Tennessee and Ohio State each feature stars, many from Ohio across both teams, and the Volunteers are stronger than any test the Buckeyes faced in their 2021/22 non-conference schedule.
It’s a game that should sell the arena out, but it likely won’t.
Lately, the Buckeyes are in somewhat of an attendance issue. Last season, in Ohio State’s Big Ten regular season championship-winning season, the Buckeyes averaged 3,274 fans per game. That’s good enough for the lowest in McGuff’s nine seasons, minus the heavily-effected COVID-19 year, and in 29th place in NCAA’s Division I. The Buckeyes are behind six other Big Ten teams, and one spot below the University of Toledo. Yes, Ohio’s Toledo.
McGuff addressed attendance at Big Ten media day.
“We’ve got certainly passionate fans in Columbus who really support our program and all the Ohio State programs,” said McGuff. “We really struggled coming out of COVID initially because we’ve been historically among the top 10 usually in the country in attendance.”
So where is that fan base now? COVID is a valid argument, although the South Carolina Gamecocks, who lead the country in average attendance, increased their average attendance from the 2019-20 season to 2021-22. Behind them, the Iowa State Cyclones, lost only 123 people per game.
For the Buckeyes, they lost over 1,600 per game, a drop that put them down 12 places in college basketball. McGuff was hopeful with the media, sharing that he thinks that people are more comfortable coming out to games now.
Another argument could be their NCAA sanctions, missing the postseason in 2020-21 due to recruiting violations from an assistant coach who’s no longer in the program. Go back down the street at Ohio Stadium and there’s a strong history of NCAA sanctions, and off-field coaching drama, over the past 20 years and empty seats are hard to find.
This isn’t an article to condemn people who pick and choose their support of the Buckeyes. It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. This is to share McGuff’s challenge.
“I would challenge anybody in Columbus. If you enjoy basketball, I’m not going to make any predictions on the score of anything like that but you’ll enjoy the game,” said McGuff. “These are two really good teams with a lot of talent, trying to start their seasons off the right way. We owe it to the young women in our program and Tennessee to have a great environment here and put on a great show.”
An Ohio State game features those same things that are great about the football Bucks. There’s a band (not marching though), a stadium with fervent fans of Ohio State, and feel free to show up early and tailgate in the parking lot.
The good thing is, Tennessee is only the beginning. Ohio State starts the season with the SEC matchup and then adds home games against No. 11 Indiana Hoosiers, the No. 25 Michigan Wolverines at home on New Year’s Eve afternoon, and an actual big game against an actually good No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes, the team who owns the other side of last season’s co-championship.
“We’ve got certainly passionate fans in Columbus who really support our program and all the Ohio State programs,” said McGuff.
Now its time to see that support in the seats. If not, there’s always the Covelli Center.