Four reasons Arizona's home football attendance has dipped to 45,586, creating the possibility that the Wildcats will average the fewest fans since the John Mackovic years:
1. Four home games in a 29-day period were too much. If nothing else, it's too expensive for the average guy sitting on the couch, worried about his electric bill. For another, it wipes out the entire month of weekend entertainment options. There's not that much passion for college football in Tucson.
2. Night games can be a killer, and four of them in succession (five when the Washington Huskies play at Arizona Stadium on Saturday) requires an all-out commitment, making it a football-inclusive weekend, a midnight or later return home, and an I'm-worn-out hangover that can linger on Sunday.
3. Construction in the north end zone, eliminating about 5,000 seats that were mostly filled the last 20 seasons, forced fans to move to the upper deck on the east side or to faraway seats on the west side. Thousands balked.
4. There is no immediacy to this season. At most, the average fan expected, or hoped, Arizona could finish 7-5 and play in a token bowl game. The Mike Stoops years extinguished the fire in the belly of thousands of potential ticket-buyers. The guy who might buy single-game tickets is saving his money for upcoming games against USC and Arizona State.
By comparison, none of the other three Pac-12 schools with new football administrations has done much better:
• Arizona State has averaged 53,631, down from last year's 59,007 under Dennis Erickson.
• UCLA continues to play before an average of 30,000 empty seats at the Rose Bowl, and even though the Bruins average 61,548, up from last year's 56,644 blah-fest under Rick Neuheisel, those figures were compromised when about 25,000 Cornhusker fans attended the Sept. 8 Nebraska-UCLA game.
• Washington State slumped to 27,339 for Saturday's home game against Cal, the dreaded 7:30 p.m. slot on the Pac-12 Networks. It was Mike Leach Bobblehead Doll Night (given to the first 10,000 Wazzu fans).
As laudable Spokane columnist John Blanchette wrote Sunday, bad football has "exhausted the giddy buzz of a rock-star hire." The Cougars are averaging 30,868 per game (up from last year's 28,791) but that's misleading because the home opener, against nearby small-college power Eastern Washington, was sold out thanks to about 8,000 EWU fans.
Some of this will change soon. The Sun Devils today, or later this week, are almost sure to announce that Thursday's ESPN game against Oregon is a sellout and that 71,000 fans will attend.
ASU (5-1) is capitalizing on its weak opening schedule and the Ducks' star power. The timing couldn't be better.
"We need our fans to pack this stadium. We need that 12th-man mentality," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham told reporters Friday. "To have the 'blackout' right here for our national audience and for all of our recruits, it means the world to us to have that support."
Two days later, the Arizona-Washington game will be played with much less hoopla, no blackout and no buzz. If the Wildcats draw 49,000, it will be a surprise.
What's odd is that the 2010 UA-Washington game here drew 56,244 (the Huskies were 3-3); the 2008 UA-UW game here drew 55,624 (the Huskies were 0-4); and the 2006 UA-UW game at Arizona Stadium attracted 55,409 (the Huskies were 3-1).
What has changed since then?
Expectations have been marginalized. UA fans felt let down by the Stoops implosion and haven't been quick to jump aboard Rich Rodriguez's bandwagon the way they did, often blindly, with Stoops.
They've been burned too often. Isn't that it?
"We've tried to keep ticket prices as low as possible because we rely on Joe Six Pack so much," says UA athletic director Greg Byrne. "There's also so much college football available on TV now, in competition with our home games. And I also think people are in a wait-and-see mode. I talked to a UA fan at LAX airport and he told me he was a fan, excited about RichRod, but said he hadn't bought tickets yet because he was just going to wait and see how it turned out for a while."
It's also likely, but impossible to prove, that the start time that best fits and appeals to a UA football crowd is maybe 4:30 or 6 p.m.
At ASU this week, the Sun Devils' website has a countdown-to-kickoff clock. It is cool to be a Sun Devil again. Not so at Arizona, at least not until expectations flip, stadium construction is completed, and RichRod has time to add reinforcements to his thin roster.
In 2012, the only countdown in Tucson is for thousands of fans hoping to get home before midnight Saturday.