Kevin Wilson has a message for Indiana football fans.
Buy better coolers.
“Those tailgates are still there,” Wilson said. “If you buy a good enough cooler, stuff will stay cold for you. Let’s ride out the second half, man. Let’s play ball.”
Ahead of Saturday’s home game against Wake Forest, Wilson voiced his frustration Monday with IU fans who continue to leave football games before they’re over.
Wilson’s comments come after Indiana’s Sept. 10 home opener, during which he watched large chunks of the announced crowd of 41,374 leave the game during halftime and again midway through the second half. It was the same scene Wilson has witnessed across each of his six seasons as IU coach, and it’s a pattern he hopes to reverse as his Hoosiers inch closer to the meat of their schedule.
“We have a great slate of games this year,” Wilson said. “Wake’s coming in and five Big Ten games. I just think we have a beautiful stadium, got a great setup around here and I just think our team’s working hard to be competitive.
The waning fan support during the Ball State game two weeks ago was particularly disappointing to Wilson, who said his team missed the external energy as it struggled to put away the Cardinals late in the 30-20 win.
“We played the first three quarters good,” Wilson said. “I don’t know if we had a lull. I think we probably played like our fans and just left in the fourth quarter, it looked like.”
While making his pointed comments, Wilson didn’t ignore the fan base’s most obvious defense.
At best, his teams have been uneven. As a whole, they haven’t been very good, especially defensively. Historically, too, no Football Bowl Subdivision team has lost more games than Indiana.
That’s no way to build an ethusiastic fan base.
But, Wilson said, Indiana’s program continues to show that it is capable of playing competitive football against the heavyweights of the Big Ten East. On the way to their first bowl appearance since 2007, the Hoosiers took four teams ranked inside the top 15 to the wire last fall. They’re also off to a 2-0 start this year, and the Ball State win saw IU hold its opponent scoreless until late in the third quarter.
“Our last six games, we’ve won four and lost two (including one in) double overtime, so why don’t we hang around for four quarters and see what happens, have a lot of fun and make this an exciting atmosphere,” Wilson said.
The attendance figures that are released by Indiana and other schools around the country reflect the number of tickets sold, not the precise amount of people walking through the turnstiles.
So there were fewer butts in the seats on Sept 10. than the announced attendance of 41,374 indicates.
And there were far fewer late in the second half as Ball State attempted a comeback.
Last season, across its seven home games, IU reported an average attendance of 44,314. Home games against Ohio State and Michigan helped the bottom line by bringing scores of opposing fans to Bloomington, but Memorial Stadium was still only filled to 83 percent capacity for the year.
“Terry Hoeppner said it years ago: fans help you win games,” Wilson said. “I’d love to have our fans come help us. I think, together, that’s our house. They’re a part of us. It’s not my house. It’s not my team’s house. It’s our house. That’s our fans’ place. You walk into Assembly Hall, there’s an advantage. It’s a real advantage.
“I actually think (Memorial Stadium) is very loud. Our fans are very much on top of you. When I go through some of the places I’ve ever played that were loud — Marshall, Oklahoma State — some of those places that are small and they’re right on top of you, you can feel the fans.”
Beyond mediocre results on the field in recent years, Indiana is also fighting external factors. Construction on State Road 37 is a headache and the convenience, low costs and draw of watching high definition television are all good enough reasons to stay home.
But plenty of fans do show up to Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoons, and Wilson is asking those who do to stick around a little longer.
Especially this week against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
“I encourage our fans to stay with us and stay behind us all the way down the stretch,” Wilson said, “because it has a chance to be a stretch game.”
And a lot of Indiana’s upcoming games do, too.