Baylor’s proposed new football stadium has created a buzz across the State of Texas, the Big 12 Conference, and beyond. Peruse the world wide web and you’ll find opinions aplenty about the stadium, Baylor football, and Waco in general. Many are complimentary and sincere. Some are not. One enterprising fellow from another conference took artistic license with stadium renderings, changing the color of the Brazos River to a muddy brown and adding a tarp to a large section of the end zone. All in good fun, for sure. The tarp at the south end zone of Floyd Casey Stadium has been a popular target of ridicule I guess since it debuted. I care not that he didn’t acknowledge the beauty of the Brazos and the spectacular setting that we know it is, but the poke at Baylor’s perceived lack of fan support for its football program is, I believe, unsubstantiated. It’s like an urban legend that’s been circulated unchecked around the internet for so long that it’s become "truth". Let’s check the facts.
A primary ingredient to significant attendance at any collegiate sporting event is having a large student body. Baylor University has by far the least number of enrolled students in the Big 12 (not considering new member TCU) at just over 15,000. Oklahoma State is the next smallest school at over 23,000, then Iowa State and Kansas hovering around 30,000 students each. Texas A&M and Texas round out the top at about 50,000 and 51,000 respectively. For Baylor, this equates to 3.29 seats per student at Floyd Casey, with a capacity of 50,000. This is easily the biggest ratio of seats per student at a football venue in the Big 12. Coming in second is Oklahoma at a ratio of 2.76, then OSU at 2.58. For 5 schools in the conference, the ratio is less than 1:2. Using Baylor’s multiplier of 3.29, imagine Texas and Texas A&M with stadiums seating over 165,000 each. Or OU seating almost 98,000 and Texas Tech with over 106,000 tickets to sell on Saturdays. One can only speculate about crowd sizes. OU might have a chance to sell out, but the others would be a long stretch.
Naturally, Baylor also has the fewest living alumni in the Big 12 Conference, at about 120,000. Less than half the total as compared to schools like Kansas, OSU, Texas A&M and Texas. And most of what there is do not live in Waco. If we assume Baylor has a significant number of graduates living in the DFW and Austin areas, one would expect the 100 mile trek on Saturdays to be an easy one. But remember, greater Austin has 1.7 million people within a stone’s throw of Royal stadium. Kyle Field in Bryan-College Station is less than 100 miles from Houston, where there are so many A&M alumni it could be appropriately renamed Aggie Land Two. Lawrence, Kansas, home to Kansas University, is only 41 miles from 2.1 million in Kansas City. Norman is a part of greater Oklahoma City, population 1.2 million. Stillwater is about 65 miles from OKC. Even tiny Ames, Iowa, home of the fighting Iowa State cyclones, is a mere 30 miles from Des Moines, the largest city in the state. To be fair, Columbia, Missouri and Manhattan, Kansas are slightly more remote, with Lubbock winning the battle of isolationism out in west Texas.
Everyone loves a winner. But when it comes to the Big 12, Baylor football has been mostly overwhelmed. Heading into the 2011 season Baylor had a total of 18 conference game wins. That’s eighteen conference wins in 15 seasons! Iowa State had almost twice that at 34 as the next biggest loser. The league averaged almost 58 conference wins, with Oklahoma winning 86 and Texas chalking up 90 w’s as the most competitive. Imagine taking away 72 wins from Texas, 68 from Oklahoma, 52 from Kansas State and 51 from Texas Tech and see what happens to the fan base over 15 years. Football fans start to decide the grass needs mowing on Saturday afternoons. With just 1.2 conference wins per season, you don’t just lose the big game to your in-state rival, you lose to almost everybody, almost all the time. In spite of these horrific stats, Baylor fans still paid the price of admission to watch their green and gold kick it off at an average rate of over 40,000 for the 2010 season. I say that’s the very definition of dedicated. Finally, if you look at actual fan attendance as a ratio of school size, Baylor averaged over 41,000 per game last season, or 2.72 attendees per enrolled student. The only other school in the Big 12 that averaged more was Oklahoma, with over 2.8 fans per student, which did so by averaging over 100% capacity on the year. Three other schools that averaged over 100% capacity were Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Because these schools’ stadiums were sold out every time, it’s impossible to know how many they could have averaged with unlimited seating. However, just to equal Baylor’s fan support, as a ratio to enrollment, these three Universities would have had to have attendance increases of over 55% for Tech and A&M and about 38% for Texas. I say show me. Other factors which work against Baylor Nation are the poverty rate in Waco, third worst amongst Big 12 cities, and the fact that Baylor is the only school with an off campus stadium . . . for now. Helping is the fact that Baylor has the third least expensive ticket in the Big 12 (based on individual general admission ticket prices for the 2011 season) at $41.70. Tickets for Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are double that and more.
Sure, Baylor could always use more fans on game day, but I think that will come with this new era of winning in football and other Baylor sports. But the next time someone tells you they think Baylor football doesn’t draw a crowd, tell them to think again.