St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

Is Size Everything? 23 February 2003

What would happen if Saint Louis University increased the size of the Bauman-Eberhardt center (the West Pine gym)? Or more simply, is size everything?

Maybe some numbers would help you form an answer.

The Bauman-Eberhardt center was dedicated in 1986 and serves as the practice courts for SLU men's and women's basketball and the home playing court for SLU women's basketball and volleyball.

The building will handle up to 2,200 people.

According to the 2002 SLU women's basketball guide, the Top 10 home crowds were:

  1. 1,785 vs. Missouri (12/7/01)
  2. 1,627 vs. Louisville (2/19/99)
  3. 1,304 vs. Cincinnati (1/3/97)
  4. 1,257 vs. Houston (2/15/02)
  5. 1,247 vs. UAB (1/3/98)
  6. 1,224 vs. Drake (11/17/00)
  7. 1,155 vs. Charlotte (2/1/02)
  8. 1,152 vs. Missouri (12/22/99)
  9. 1,146 vs. Evansville at Savvis (12/23/98), technically this does not count
  10. 1,104 vs. Memphis (1/6/02)

So, the lady Billikens would need to increase their top attendance by 40% to reach capacity. Their recent average attendance is close to 300 maximum fans on any given night.

According the the 2002 SLU women's volleyball media guide, the Top 10 home crowds were:

  1. 3,944 vs. Missouri at Savvis Center (9/25/94), technically this does not count
  2. 817 vs. Marquette (11/12/99)
  3. 771 vs. Notre Dame (10/24/01)
  4. 706 vs. Southern Miss (10/13/01)
  5. 654 vs. Missouri (9/22/93)
  6. 519 vs. Tulane (10/12/01)
  7. 518 vs. Memphis (9/26/97)
  8. 503 vs. UMKC (9/3/96)
  9. 502 vs. Cincinnati (11/15/98)
  10. 483 vs. Stephen F. Austin (9/2/00)

One might guess that the volleyball average attendance is less than that for women's basketball.

For comparison, let's look at the attendance records for women's soccer, which plays outdoors in Robert R. Hermann Stadium:

  1. 2,768 vs. Kansas (9/1/00)
  2. 1,477 vs. Iowa (8/27/99)
  3. 1,384 vs. Louisville (9/29/00)
  4. 1,274 vs. Duke (8/29/99)
  5. 1,225 vs. Drury (8/25/00)

Based upon my recent coverage of the 2002 season, I would offer the nonscientific observation that women's soccer at least rivals but probably draws more fans than women's basketball.

And we will look at men's soccer attendance records at Hermann Stadium, where they averaged 2,900 fans in the 2001 season:

  1. 6,517 vs. Indiana (8/21/99)
  2. 4,934 vs. Indiana (9/18/94)
  3. 4,537 vs. SMS (9/23/00)
  4. 4,481 vs. Memphis (10/6/01)
  5. 4,174 vs. UAB (9/30/00)

That is not too bad considering that late in the season and into the post-season, the temperatures may be below that of any cold drink purchased indoors.

Now, let's take a quick look at SLU men's basketball attendance records (at Savvis):

  1. 32,429 vs. Illinois at TWA Dome (12/6/97), technically this does not count
  2. 25,790 vs. Missouri at TWA Dome (12/12/99), technically this does not count
  3. 22,527 vs. Kansas (12/23/98)
  4. 21,331 vs. Louisville (1/31/98)
  5. 21,004 vs. DePaul (3/1/95)
  6. 20,930 vs. Dayton (2/25/95)
  7. 20,911 vs. Memphis (2/11/95)
  8. 20,618 vs. Austin Peay (12/28/95)
  9. 20,602 vs. Missouri (12/3/01)
  10. 20,176 vs. Marquette (1/22/95)

If my memory serves me well, the men's basketball team has averaged somewhere in the 7,000 to 8,000 fan range.

So all things being equal, which they certainly are not, the only team that might benefit from an increase in size would be the women's volleyball team, when they play Missouri.

You can now provide an answer to the initial question.

Or you can read on a bit more.

Doug Woolard was on AM 550 during my drive from St. Louis to Carbondale this Sunday afternoon; he was speaking about the newly announced plans to build an on-campus arena.

Woolard spoke about the prospects of funding a $60 million arena, how SLU would use donations ($45 million) from the community and alumni and tax-incremental financing ($15 million, TIF) to bring a modern entertainment arena to the campus. He spoke about the impact of this arena on other St. Louis venues such as the St. Charles Family Arena and the Savvis Center.

None of this surprised me, one always needs to figure how your proposed project will impact the existing landscape.

But Woolard went one step further, he speculated obliquely, on the importance of the proposed arena on the women's teams, specifically, "Jill's team." Jill Pizzotti is the same women's basketball coach whose teams have finished over 0.500 once, but who are 15-12 in the current season.

This is where the numbers and some personal experience may be appropriate to the discussion and for your educated guess at the posed question.

The women play in Bauman-Eberhardt Center and when the crowds are vocal, the experience is something else. A season-high crowd (1,796 fans) witnessed a 73-71 home victory over #25 DePaul; it was loud and exciting.

What might happen if the women moved to a new and larger arena? One might say that more fans would follow. One might argue that there would be many empty seats.

One might search for an example close to home for comparison.

That example would be the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Salukis. And a good example, I think, for a number of reasons.

The women's and men's basketball teams play in the SIU Arena, which was constructed in 1964 and seats 10,000 fans. The arena also hosts regional high school basketball tournaments as well as other entertainment for the southern Illinois region.

The men's team has played their home games in the SIU arena since 1965 while the women began hosting games during their 1987-88 season. Prior to that season, the women played in a smaller venue, Davies Gymnasium, which seats approximately 1,500 people.

Let's look at the ten largest home crowds (2001 media guide) for the SIUC women's basketball team:

  1. 2,003 vs. Wichita State (1/21/89)
  2. 1,885 vs. SMS (3/5/92)
  3. 1,691 vs. Eastern Illinois (1/28/89)
  4. 1,564 vs. SMS (2/26/94)
  5. 1,534 vs. SMS (3/2/96)
  6. 1,503 vs. Drake at Davies Gym (3/1/86), a sell-out for Davies Gym
  7. 1,468 vs. Eastern Illinois (3/6/87)
  8. 1,466 vs. SMS (2/26/87)
  9. 1,411 vs. Eastern Illinois (2/7/87)
  10. 1,398 vs. Indiana State (1/23/88)

The ten largest home crowds (2001 media guide) for the SIUC men's basketball team:

  1. 10,300 vs. Indiana State (2/15/79)
  2. 10,200 vs. Evansville (2/26/66)
  3. 10,200 vs. Kentucky Wesleyan (2/25/67)
  4. 10,100 vs. Louisville (1/11/67)
  5. 10,050 vs. Oral Roberts (2/8/75)
  6. 10,014 vs. Evansville (2/27/65)
  7. 10,014 vs. Drake (2/26/77)
  8. 10,014 vs. Indiana State (1/19/78)
  9. 10,014 vs. New Mexico State (1/28/78)
  10. 10,014 vs. Illinois State (2/24/90)

For comparison with the SLU numbers, the SIUC men's basketball team appears to average near 6,000 to 7,000 fans, while the women's team averages close to 200 to 300 fans, respectively, per game.

So after some 20 years of operation, it was deemed appropriate to move the women from their cozy and fan friendly gymnasium to the larger arena (for reasons that I will not discuss in any detail, sufficed to say that Title IX probably played a role in the transfer). The result has been a near empty arena during the past few seasons.

Was anything gained or lost in the change of venue for the Salukis?

Certainly for the men's team, the large arena provides much vocal intensity and crowd involvement in the games. But this could easily change if the bottom dropped out for Coach Weber. Along with that goes the cultural trend away from a small school environment and towards the big-time excitement of a wannabe top program.

But for the women, something may have been lost. That there were large crowds in attendance at the smaller Davies Gymnasium suggests that the women may have been cultivating a typical "small college" following for their sport. We might be tempted to ask Washington University about their experiences with men's and women's basketball.

Proponents of "bigger is better" may say that the women will gain from the new SLU arena. Money spent on the men and women elevates the women's position on campus and serves to buy off Title IX advocates.

But will empty rows of seats justify the inflation or simply define the inflation?

So again, without being too oblique, I will ask, does size matter?


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