Reasons for shrinking state tourney attendance

Reasons for shrinking state tourney attendance

With the recent completion of the 101st annual state boys basketball tournament, I couldn’t help but ponder one simple question: What has happened to attendance?

Back in the tournament’s heyday at St. John’s Arena at the Ohio State University in Columbus, between 12,000 and 13,000 fans would rock the house to support their favorite teams or simply to watch the finest high school talent the boys game had to offer.

It was a fantastic celebration of basketball with the place roaring to life, with scalpers seeking out those hungering to get into a particular game.

This past tournament saw crowds of 4,000 and below, meaning there has been a monumental drop in attendance over the past several decades.

The question is why?

The answer is not so simple.

There are multiple possible reasons the attendance has waned, and disinterest is not among them because there has to be a reason for the disinterest if you want to go that route.


With the advent of Spectrum covering each game in its entirety, many people have opted to save money and enjoy the comfort of their favorite Barcalounger, with easy access to both refrigerator and restroom facilities with no waiting in line.

Back in the day, that wasn’t an option, and thus fans had to attend. With the advent of televised games, the OHSAA has provided a revenue-making entity, but at the same time it has helped cut down on the paid ticket attendance. Many people are content with the trade-off of not seeing games live for seeing them all without the headaches of travel.

There’s no debating this is one main reason for the decline.

Too many divisions?

This one can be debated.

When the OHSAA opted to go to four divisions instead of three, it made it easier to get to state, especially for smaller schools, and thus in some people’s eyes, it might have watered down the thrill of accomplishing a trek to state.

When Hiland made it to state in 1962, there were only two divisions, and that made the journey that much more difficult to make but all the more satisfying.

A different breed of ball?

Let’s face it: The game today isn’t what it used to be. For better or worse, the game now flows around the 3-point arc, with limited actual plays and more slashing drives and long-range hoisting going on.

There used to be an art to setting a perfect screen or running the ideal inbound play. However, today the game is all about one-on-one, breaking down your defender and getting to the hole. And inbounds plays? I don’t consider lobbing the ball to near mid-court an option for a sound play when you’re 3 feet from the bucket to begin with.

The game has changed immensely. One theory is AAU ball has become such a breeding ground for individual play being promoted over the team concept that it has taken away the beauty of the game, replaced by a frenzied tempo that rushes to get off the first available shot.

Perhaps some people simply don’t like the way the game is played today and that is keeping them away.

Too far to go?

When the tournament was in Columbus, it was smack-dab in the middle of the state, making for a central destination.

It is now in Dayton, where travelers from Cleveland or Youngstown have to make a Moses-like excursion across the entire state. This one could be true, but attendance was dwindling long before the change of venue was made.

Fewer stay the weekend?

Back in the day, the state used to sell massive numbers of package tickets to fans who wanted to take in every game. Have those numbers shrunk? Could it be fewer people feel the desire to see that many games featuring teams they aren’t invested in?

Too much to do?

Perhaps people’s lifestyles are the culprit and not basketball at all. Maybe people are investing in many other types of recreation, work has become all-consuming and there are too many other things pulling people away from watching the games.

Private vs. Public?

This is a gripe heard by a whole lot of fans. The private school versus public school debate has been waged for decades. “There’s no chance for public schools to compete against schools who can basically recruit all they want,” you’ll hear critics say.

Because of that discrepancy, are people less likely to attend a tournament where private schools rule the roost?

Whether you agree with any of these issues or not or whether there are reasons that are left unmentioned, there is no denying the state tournament is not what it used to be in terms of attendance.

I make no determination on the entirety of the decline but only bring this up because it is a phenomenon that has taken place and it doesn’t appear those gaudy numbers of yesteryear will ever be reached again.

Maybe it is just one of those things that has run its course, like the life expectancy of a mall or the fads of the pet rock and Cabbage Kids.

Perhaps it is something that basketball fans and the OHSAA are simply going to have to accept and live with, for better or worse.

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