During the second half of Thursday’s Tulane-University of Tulsa basketball game at the Reynolds Center, TU President Gerard Clancy was seated with athletic director Derrick Gragg at a baseline table.

Were they discussing the game? Athletic department matters? The weather?

Or did they talk about attendance?

More specifically, the lack of attendance?

It took a while for the Golden Hurricane to get going, but Tulane-Tulsa developed into a pretty entertaining college basketball game. The Hurricane prevailed 91-89 in overtime, recording its third consecutive victory while improving to 14-10 overall and 7-5 in the American Athletic Conference.

Announced attendance at the 8,355-seat Reynolds Center: 4,019.

Actual attendance: about 1,800.

At the same time on Thursday, Oral Roberts hosted North Dakota State for a Summit League basketball game at the 10,535-seat Mabee Center. This one also went to an overtime period, and the Golden Eagles won 67-66 over North Dakota State.

A crowd of 2,366 watched as ORU’s Austin Ruder converted on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. That shot wound up being ESPN’s SportsCenter top play of the day.

Nationally, there are 103 Division I men’s basketball programs with a current home attendance average of at least 5,000. The Tulsa metro population amounts to nearly 1 million, but neither TU nor ORU is among those 103 schools.

With an average of 4,583, TU is ninth in the 12-school AAC.

With an average of 2,432, ORU is second in the eight-school Summit League.

By the end of the 2017 football season, TU had a home attendance average of 18,458. That figure ranked 11th in the conference.

What is the answer to the attendance problem in this city?

What is the solution?

Is there a solution?

Winning is essential. Beyond that, what can Gragg and Clancy do to boost attendance at TU? What can athletic director Mike Carter do at ORU?

Even if TU and ORU were to win big and do it with popular coaches, is it impossible now for these small, private schools to achieve healthy attendance figures?

Wichita State averages nearly 11,000 for home basketball games, but Wichita State isn’t battling OU, OSU and the Oklahoma City Thunder for market share. TU and ORU are profoundly affected by the Bedlam schools and the Thunder.

The Tulane-Tulsa game was televised. Most Tulsa games are televised, and that’s among the easy explanations: If given the option to watch from home, a lot of people will do that instead of buying tickets and driving to the TU campus.

It’s tragic — the dip in TU and ORU basketball attendance since the ’90s and early 2000s. When Bill Self coached the Golden Hurricane, and when the Reynolds Center was a new building, capacity crowds were routine.

During the ’70s, ORU’s Mabee Center consistently was packed for basketball. Twenty years ago, it was common for ORU to get crowds of 4,000 for somewhat routine games, 7,000 for more significant opponents and 10,000 for a Mayor’s Cup type of event.

When Wichita State played at TU on Jan. 13, the Reynolds Center was sold out for the first time since 2009. About half of the seats were occupied by Wichita State fans, though.

Not that long ago, a crowd of 5,000 was considered a disappointment for TU. Today, it would be celebrated. Today’s somewhat lofty yet somewhat reasonable goals: At ORU, a consistent 3,500 for basketball. At TU, a consistent 5,000 for basketball and 20,000 for football.

When Gragg and Clancy talk again, maybe they can discuss a strategy to get those numbers.

Bill Haisten



Twitter: @billhaisten

Sports Columnist

Bill joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to having become a sports columnist in 2016, he was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397