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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Chronicling USU's troubles: When you win games, people come

By Steve Haynie

December 15, 2006 | What were you doing on the evening of Oct. 7? If you were driving the streets of Logan after dusk, you were probably all alone.

That night there was a strange phenomenon that occurred at Romney Stadium. While many students and alumni sat and watched the game unfold, they also witnessed numerous fans filling the stadium late in the fourth quarter. It was quite a sight to see people show up for a homecoming game over two hours late! So what happened to make so many people put in an appearance at that game? It's simple. When you win games, people come.

Those who were present witnessed one of the most exciting football games in Utah State history. A true freshman, and first time starter, Riley Nelson led the Aggies to an unforgettable victory. Driving down the field with under a minute left in the game, Nelson completed a 30-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Kevin Robinson.

"I have never been to a Utah State football game so thrilling!" said Bryson O'Neil, a senior in marketing at Utah State University.

Romney Stadium has a capacity of 25,513. In 1997, their last non-losing season, the Aggies achieved a 6-6 record. That year the crowd averaged 18,613. In 2001, Utah State had a 4-7 record, with an average attendance of 21,784. Yet, in 2005, with an almost equaled performance of 3-8, Utah State football only had an average turnout of 10,896. So why are the numbers so different? Why did they have more than 10,000 people per game in 2001 than in 2005?

In 2001, Utah State played four teams which ended the season with more than 10 wins. They also had two players (Chris Cooley and Kevin Curtis) who were NFL bound, and they played No. 4, Oregon, at home. All of these things were part of a grand combination that sold tickets.

The men's basketball games at Utah State has increased from 6,756 attendees per game in 1997, to 8,222 per game in 2005. Therefore, the basketball team had nearly a 25 percent increase in the same span of time that the football team had approximately a 50 percent decrease. This was the same school, with the same students, which filled the basketball arena to 80 percent of its total capacity of 10,270, but, pathetically under-filling the Romney Stadium (which is under renovation) to only 42.7 percent of capacity.

If you watch college football, you know that it would be easy to be a Florida or Notre Dame fan, not because you like their mascot, but because year after year they win games. A winning team is a popular team; and a popular team will always sell tickets.

Utah State has been down on their luck during this past decade. Since 1997, the school has gone 30-71, with 17 of those wins being between 1999 and 2002. They recently have changed coaches, and they even changed conferences, with the hope of engaging in a winning season. Since joining that WAC, and under the direction of the new head coach Brent Guy, the Aggies have only produced a 4-19 record over the last two years. On ESPN's list of the 10 worst teams in college football for 2006, Utah State comes in a sad seventh.

Although Utah State has gone through a decline over the last few years, it wasn't always that way. Utah State was the Big West conference champion in 1993 and 1997. In 1993 they beat Ball State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Right now, if Utah State had a winning season, they would not be able to go to a bowl game. The NCAA has a requirement that a school participating in a bowl game must have an average attendance of 25,000, or 70 percent of the stadium capacity. Utah State would not qualify.

Utah only has three major college football programs; Brigham Young University, University of Utah, and Utah State University. With Utah State being one of the "big three" as they call it in Utah, it would seem possible for them to be able to recruit some of the top high school athletes from within the state.

Last year, Utah State had 25 high school students that signed to play on scholarship. Out of the 25 that signed, only three were from Utah, two of which were from Logan. So why are they not more focused on instate recruiting? Some believe that if there were more instate recruiting there would be a better following at home games.

This last year Utah State initiated a student based program to try and help the already struggling football attendance. The HURD is a club for students that gives them the opportunities to be more involved. "Utah State Athletics have a lot to change," said Steve Edwards from the USU Athletic Department. Even with the changes that have been made, the attendance is still on a downward shift.

Just like every spring brings a new beginning, there is a feeling of change on the campus of Utah State University. More students, faculty, and locals are getting involved and trying to help people get excited to get out and support the local University football program. Time will tell if the Aggies can get back on track to having successful football seasons, and therefore selling tickets.

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