COLUMN: Want WKU to go to a bowl next year? Fill the stadium

Cole Claybourn

WKU fans did everything they were supposed to do this past week.

They bombarded several bowls’ Facebook and Twitter pages, namely the BBVA Compass Bowl’s, constantly posting — perhaps even pleading — for the bowl representatives to give WKU an at-large bid.

Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as Compass Bowl officials responded via social media thanking the fans for their heavy interest.

But where was that passion the entire season?

WKU averaged 15,310 fans at the team’s six home games — the third lowest total among bowl eligible teams. 

To put it simply, that’s not good enough.

During the Sun Belt Conference media days this past summer prior to the season starting, Bowl Championship Series Executive Director Bill Hancock plainly said that attendance matters when bowl committees choose teams.

If they know a 6-6 team will bring more fans than a 7-5 team, the 6-6 team will get the nod.

It’s all about money when it comes to bowl games, and the only data the committees have to go off of is how teams do in attendance.

Perhaps the best example that WKU could use to show how well they’d travel to a game was the Sept. 1 game against Kentucky at L.P. Field in Nashville. A total of 24,599 fans showed up, but there’s no telling how many were there to support UK and how many were supporting WKU.

Some bowls, particularly the Compass Bowl, simply couldn’t choose WKU even if they wanted to because of contractual tie-ins with other conferences.

But a key thing to remember is that bowl selections aren’t a mathematical thing. Even if WKU had finished first in the Sun Belt this year, they weren’t guaranteed a bowl berth.

Take the New Orleans Bowl, for example, which chose third place finisher Louisiana-Lafayette over second place finisher WKU. Lafayette, with its close proximity to New Orleans, got the nod despite finishing behind and even losing to WKU.

Why? Because they could guarantee more fans would come with Lafayette in the game.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork even acknowledged the attendance aspect.

“It’s two things,” Bjork said. “We need to perform better in the non-conference and we need to pack our stadium. That’s really what it comes down to…really, we need our fans to show that same passion they showed toward Birmingham (Compass Bowl), we need that year-round in our stadium.”

There’s no doubt that many of the fans who pleaded for a WKU bowl berth are the same ones who are in attendance every week. But at the same time, some of those fans are likely the same ones who bashed the team after its 0-4 start and didn’t turn out for home games.

Attendance is certainly not the only reason why WKU was left out of a bowl, but it played a role.

So before fans start making promises that they’ll travel hours for a bowl game, they need to first cross over the street from their tailgating spot on South Lawn and find a seat in Smith Stadium.