Empty seats need 12th Man
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07
Doug Keegan, class of 1999, doesn't buy the idea that the men's basketball team isn't "fun to watch." If students prove a willingness to support the Aggies, he will help buy a future education.
In response to a decline in attendance figures throughout the 2010-2011 season, Keegan decided to challenge students to fill the student section of Reed Arena for the two remaining home games. If students are successful, he will write a check to the Tobi Oyedeji Endowed Scholarship Fund.
"On the ride back to Austin after [Wednesday's win over Iowa State], I saw the Internet blowing up in the wake of Head Coach [Mark] Turgeon's comments, and I was irked by the crowd — or lack thereof," Keegan said regarding the announced crowd of 7,041 that watched the game. "I stewed and thought about writing a scathing mail call letter to The Battalion admonishing
Keegan decided to turn the issue into a positive challenge benefiting the Tobi Oyedeji Endowed Scholarship Fund.
Oyedeji was 17 years old when he died in a car accident in May of 2010, after signing a letter of intent to become the highest-ranked member of Turgeon's recruiting class. More notable than his basketball skills was his Christian faith and personality; most believe Oyedeji would have been an ambassador for a program that now seems to need one.
The referenced "Turgeon's comments" consisted of his vocal displeasure to a question about the crowd and the departure from the post-Iowa State press conference. In a television interview shot after the game, he joked about doubting he would be at A&M long enough to surpass former coach Shelby Metcalf's win total as head coach; Metcalf, however, spent 27 years at A&M to Turgeon's four. Fans divided over whether to endorse or lambaste the coach for his frankness in the latter — or as some countered, his humility.
Keegan will take the student attendance between the two games, subtract 7,500 and donate the final tally to the scholarship in Oyedeji's name. The subtraction was written to push for a larger showing; to support the cause, the average student attendance between the two games must be at least 3,750.
"The capacity of Reed puts a ceiling on the potential donation, and I'm comfortable with whatever the number might be," Keegan said. "I'd love to see our team have the support that they've more than earned, and for our terrific seniors to enjoy an outstanding atmosphere when they step onto the Reed Arena court for the last few times in their career."
Fans broke the Reed Arena attendance record on three separate occasions in 2009-2010, creating an environment where the Aggies went 15-1 during the season. Famed ESPN commentator Brent Musberger, on hand to announce A&M's game against No. 1 Kansas — the only home loss — described the world inside Reed that night to a small group of students as, "one of the best college basketball atmospheres I've ever seen."
With the decline in attendance this season, the Aggies survived close calls against inferior opposition such as Stephen F. Austin and Iowa State and have already lost two games at home. The team remains mum when asked about whether exiting the tunnel before the game and looking up at empty seats affects its play, but Turgeon has not wilted from making his desire for more fans known.
Especially in light of his team's 21-5 record in what was suspected might be a down year for the Aggies.
"We need to realize the massive national exposure Texas A&M earns from hoops and its importance to the A&M brand," Keegan said. "I can't say that I enjoy reading comments like the ones attributed to Turgeon, but I completely understand where he's coming from. The attendance for ISU upset me, and I'm just a fan. It has to be tough on the coaches and players that pour their hearts and souls into the program. After one game in the late ‘90s, I remember a conversation with my roommate about how awesome it would be if A&M ever made the NCAA Tournament.
"It was discussed in the same manner one would discuss winning the Powerball. Now we're on the verge of our sixth straight NCAA Tournament. Aggies need to recognize and appreciate this era. It's certainly no birthright."