COLUMBIA, Mo. - Last week, when Bob Huggins was asked about the absence of fannies in the seats at his West Virginia basketball team's home games, he took it pretty much in stride, but with a small caveat.
"When we go to Missouri there's going to be 14,000 there,'' he said.
Well, not exactly.
The Mountaineers indeed played at Missouri Thursday night. Pretty much got blown away by a decent Mizzou team, too, losing an 80-71 game that seemed a lot more like 800-71.
But no, there weren't 14,000 watching. In fact, the announced crowd of 7,292 was less than half the 15,061 capacity of Mizzou Arena. Truth is, no Missouri game this season had drawn more than the 6,000 to 7,000 range, and this is a team that Thursday won its 23 straight home game.
All of which points merely to the fact that it's hard to draw in a lot of places these days. But yes, it seems particularly difficult at WVU.
To date, of course, fans are staying away in droves. West Virginia's opening-night crowd for a game with Mount St. Mary's - 8,336 - was actually a bit stunning. No doubt that figure was pushed upward because it was on the eve of a football game with Texas, and so bored Friday RVers found something to do. There was also the newness factor, I suppose. Everyone's curious at the start.
In the four home games since, however, the average crowd has been just over 5,150. A year ago, during a 13-19 season that even Huggins a few days ago referred to as "that debacle,'' only twice did WVU draw crowds of less than 7,000, once because of a snowstorm.
Personally, I've been mystified by crowd numbers a lot over the years, both high and low ones. Consider that twice this season WVU has drawn the smallest crowd in nine years - first 4,814 for Georgia Southern and then one-downing it Monday with 4,692 for Loyola. Those are notable because the low-water mark the last decade was 4,323 for a game with New Hampshire in December of 2004.
Here's the part that's always baffled me: That 2004 team was 7-0 at the time and on the way to a 10-0 start, with a coach and a style and a roster everyone seemed to love. It was a team that by season's end would miss a trip to the Final Four only because it couldn't hold on to a 20-point lead against Louisville in Albuquerque, N.M.
I get that some days or some opponents or just plain circumstances all play into crowd numbers, but eight days after 4,323 came for New Hampshire, 13,956 showed up for a game against George Washington. Yes, GW was in the Top 25, but it was also during Christmas break while the football team was in Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator Bowl.