Winning will bring fans back to Southern Miss basketball

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

[7/8/04]The following is a sad but true tale of the Southern Miss men’s basketball program.

In 1991, a Cincinnati team ranked in the Top 10 nationally trailed the Golden Eagles by five points with less than two minutes to play. A crowd of more than 7,000 an obscene number when attached to USM basketball was witnessing the greatest upset in school history.

Less than two minutes later, Cincinnati completed a 12-0 scoring run to end the game. A shocked Golden Eagles crowd began chanting “overrated, overrated.” All the while Cincinnati players laughed, gawked and pointed to a fan base that certainly hadn’t embraced a winning basketball tradition. In the eyes of Eagles’ fans, even leading Cincinnati late in the game meant the Bearcats were not deserving of such a ranking.

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From that year, Golden Eagle basketball has seen its ups and many more downs the biggest down coming in attendance. Fan numbers announced usually hover in the mid-2000s, with actual attendance maybe 30 percent of that.

Desperate for a turnaround in fortunes, the athletic department is asking the fans (the few they can find) for ideas to improve their game-day experiences.

The Fans First campaign is designed to fix the myriad problems facing the Golden Eagles program and boost stagnant attendance.

A few suggestions:

Win. Few will shell out money to watch a losing team every year, save Saints and Cubs fanatics.

If you win one, they will come.

As it was, the basketball at Southern Miss for the past 10 seasons has been laced with mediocre players, a boring style of play and repeated losses.

Fix the arena. Reed Green Coliseum is as friendly as a New York City cab driver. The circular arena puts fans in each corner close to the action, while the rest of the fans sit so far off the court, binoculars are given away during pregame.

Win. Oh, already mentioned that one.

Keep the new coach clean. One thing about Larry Eustachy is that he is a proven winner. On the court, he can take care of his business. Off the court, he still has to take care of his business.

Eustachy’s battle with alcoholism ruined his career at Iowa State and made him a coaching pariah until the Golden Eagles took a chance on him. He’ll bring in fans the first year, mostly as a novelty to see what he can do. How to keep those fans in the stands will be a much bigger challenge than winning.

Southern Miss basketball is at a crossroads. Dwindling attendance figures have crippled a program that at one time competed for NCAA berths and NIT championships.

The USM football team has faced these same problems. In 12 seasons, the Eagles have almost doubled attendance for home football games.

That attendance grew because of wins.

Basketball’s could as well.

Sean P. Murphy is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. E-mail him at