By: Derek Gonzales
“The Aggies can’t beat UNM.”
“They don’t win any big non-conference games.”
“Tickets are too expensive.”
Those are only some of the excuses Aggie fans have used in recent memory as to why they don’t attend NMSU men’s basketball games like they used to when former coach Reggie Theus was manning the sidelines.
The attendance average for that 2006-07 season was 9,467, which is the sixth best seasonal average in New Mexico State basketball history. Five times has there been an average attendance above 10,000 per game. With the city of Las Cruces as big as it has ever been population-wise (over 100,000), why is attendance so low this season? Coach Weir, his staff, and his team have done everything they can to get folks back in the Pan American Center seats. Let’s look at each excuse fans normally use and examine why that is no longer a reason to go and watch one of the best mid-major teams in the nation.
The Aggies can’t beat UNM
Former Head Coach Marvin Menzies struggled miserably against New Mexico during his nine-year tenure at NMSU. In his defense, UNM was a top-30 program for four of those nine years, but even after Craig Neal took over, the Aggies could not beat the Lobos in the Pan American Center. Before this season, it hadn’t been since Menzies’ first season that NMSU beat UNM in Las Cruces. In came Weir, and after losing 72-59 in the Pit in the second game of the season, NMSU returned the favor with a 13-point win of their own in the Pan Am, in front of a crowd of 6,298 people. Keep in mind that the Pan Am, with all seats available, holds an occupancy of 12,482. The Aggies went 3-1 against their rivals this season.
The Aggies don’t win any big non-conference games
This year’s team beat a Pac-12 team for first time in over a decade (81-70 win at Arizona State). They also landed a win against a Mountain West team not named New Mexico with a 78-70 win over Air Force and beat Long Beach State 93-85, who was voted to finish first in the Big West Conference. NMSU finished their non-conference portion of their schedule with their best record (13-2) since 1994-95. UC Irvine was picked to finish second in the Big West behind LBSU, and they also fell to NMSU 85-79 in overtime. The Mountain West and Big West are two quality mid-major conferences, ranking ninth and 15th in ESPN’s conference power rankings respectively, and NMSU posted a 4-2 record against teams from those two conferences.
Tickets are too expensive
This is where Mario Moccia has excelled since taking over as the Director of Athletics in January, 2015. Moccia has worked tirelessly with his staff to make tickets more affordable for Aggie fans. Students get in free, and quite frankly, it is a shame that the student section isn’t full for most home games. Weir has gone and talked to students about the importance of a home-court advantage, yet students aren’t showing up the way they used to in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Whether they are playing UNM or Seattle U, this team is winning games at a rate that hasn’t been seen at NMSU since 1995. Winning is more important than ever, and an Athletic Director at a Power-5 school will notice soon how a 37-year old first-year coach is leading a WAC school to success it has not seen in over two decades.
After NMSU beat Cal-State Bakerfield 63-58 after trailing for most of the game, Coach Weir had this to say about the 4,295 in attendance that night.
“I thought a lot of that was our crowd, to be honest with you,” Weir said of the second half run that propelled NMSU into the lead for good late in the second half. “We had energy, and their volume was great. I think it rattled Bakersfield and gave us a pop. A lot of those possessions when the crowd was really loud, we had a stop or a turnover, I think, on every one. It was not only encouraging for us as a team, but for our program.”
The Pan Am was only a third full, yet those in attendance made their presence felt for a team that needed every bit of energy to keep the nation’s third-longest winning streak alive. This team deserves 7,000-9,000 a night. The talent, the chip on the team’s shoulder, and the pride they display in each home game to defend their building is quite the sight to see. If you don’t start attending these games and make the Pan Am the raucous atmosphere it should be, you are letting a program down that uses the same blue-collar mentally they believe this city has. Stop letting them down.