Temple point guard Will Cummings and forward Jaylen Bond were 70 seconds into their postgame session with the media Tuesday night when they were asked how helpful the crowd had been during the Owls' 16-point win over Cincinnati.
The man asking the question looked young enough to be a Temple student. If he was pleased by the raucous atmosphere inside the Liacouras Center during a terrific performance by Cummings, Bond, and the entire Temple team, he had every right to be.
"It was a great crowd," Cummings said. "The student section was crazy like normal and kind of what we need . . . to have our fans behind us each and every game."
The students behind the basket on the south end of the court were every bit as rowdy as the Cameron Crazies at Duke or the Izzone at Michigan State. They held up jumbo face cutouts of the Phillie Phanatic, Rocky, Will Smith and other city icons. When Bond ended a late-game flight toward the basket with a Stretch Armstrong slam off a feed from guard Jesse Morgan, the student section saluted the junior forward by rhythmically chanting his name.
"It was crazy," Bond said. "I just started laughing. I enjoyed it. We have a great student section."
The crowd at the Liacouras Center was loud enough Tuesday night to make it sound as if the place was filled to capacity. The total attendance, however, was only 6,603, a disappointing number on a night when Temple was playing a talented conference opponent in an arena that can accommodate more than 10,000 people.
Temple's basketball attendance is down this season even though coach Fran Dunphy has the program back up again after a 9-22 finish a year ago. The Owls (18-7) are drawing an average of 5,159 fans per game at the Liacouras Center and the arena has been more than half empty for six of their 12 games. The overall average attendance jumps to 5,623 if you count the one game at the Wells Fargo Center when the Owls routed Kansas. Those numbers reflect poorly on the school's alumni.
There is a commitment from school president Neil Theobald, athletic director Kevin Clark, and deputy director of athletics Pat Kraft to make Temple sports more relevant than ever. There is talk of a football stadium on campus, and Kraft said he can see a future in which 8,000 to 10,000 consistently cram into the Liacouras Center for basketball games.
"Look, everybody in the country wants full arenas," Kraft said. "We're really happy since we've come back from [winter] break with the energy in the building. We're not disappointed. We're encouraged that it is growing."
Kraft, who like Theobald and Clark cut his collegiate athletic teeth at Indiana University, talked about all the things that Temple tries to do to make the Liacouras Center a fan-friendly experience. It's a great modern college arena that houses a team that has been mostly good during Dunphy's nine seasons since he took over from the legendary John Chaney in 2006.
It would be blasphemous to say it's a better place than the Palestra, but it's not a reach at all to say it is in the running with St. Joseph's renovated Hagan Arena as the second-best basketball venue in the city.
Temple, with its large alumni base, should be able to match and even exceed Villanova's average attendance even though the Wildcats have played for decades in the more high-profile Big East. There are enough people in the city - and enough good basketball from the teams - for both programs to thrive. Only once, however, has Temple outdrawn Villanova since the Liacouras Center opened during the 1997-98 season. That was during the 1999-2000 season, when the Owls drew a record average of 8,481 per game.
The Owls have averaged fewer than 6,000 fans per season 10 times in the last 12 years, and that number could grow to 11 of 13 this season. Those numbers make little sense when you consider that Dunphy has led the Owls to the NCAA tournament in six of his eight seasons and is in position to do so again this year.
Again, the biggest finger needs to be pointed at the alumni. Those are the people Temple must persuade to come back to the North Philadelphia campus if they want to take the athletic programs to another level. If they cannot do it with a traditionally successful basketball program, it's reasonable to wonder whether it would be worthwhile to spend the millions it would take to erect an on-campus football stadium.
"Our building is fantastic - one of the best in the country," Kraft said. "It can rock. The history is here. Winning obviously helps and we're getting there. Fran is one of the best coaches in college basketball, and that's a nice thing to have.
"We have to get the alumni to buy in and feel that passion. We have to look in the mirror and continue to do our part to give them a product they can be enthused about. Our current students drive the energy. The alumni can see them and get excited.
"Yes, it's a pro sports town, but . . . we do not allow that to be an excuse here. Our focus is trying to get that group of alumni to come back and have pride in what we're doing. We have to get people talking and coming to games."
History has proved that is a tough sell, and only the many Temple alumni can change that history.
Here's a look at how Temple's overall attendance and attendance at the Liacouras Center compares with the other teams in its conference.
Team Arena Capacity Avg. Attendance
Memphis FedEx Forum 18,119 13,701
Connecticut XL Center 16,294 12,934
Gampel Pavilion 10,167 9,805
Webster Bank Arena 10,000 9,124
Combined average 11,165
Cincinnati Fifth Third Arena 13,176 8,615
SMU Moody Coliseum 7,000 6,898
Temple Liacouras Center 10,200 5,159
Wells Fargo Center 19,500 11,188
Combined average 5,623
Tulsa Reynolds Center 8,355 4,996
East Carolina Minges Coliseum 8,000 4,494
Central Florida CFE Arena 10,000 3,871
South Florida Sun Dome 10,411 3,448
Houston Hofheinz Pavilion 8,479 2,479
Tulane Devlin Field House 4,100 1,729
Through Tuesday's games
Here's a look at how Temple and Villanova have compared in home men's basketball attendance since the Owls started playing in the Liacouras Center during the 1997-98 season. The record for the teams in each year is in parentheses. The ranking indicates where they stood among Division I teams in attendance. Temple was not in the top 100 three times and that is noted by the word "out" in the Owls' ranking. This year's rankings will not be available until after the season.
Year Temple avg. att. Rank Villanova avg. att Rank
1997-98 (21-9) 7,964 57 (12-17) 8,391 54
1998-99 (24-11) 7,725 61 (21-11) 8,540 54
1999-00 (27-6) 8,481 54 (20-13) 7,884 62
2000-01 (24-13) 7,138 74 (18-13) 7,298 70
2001-02 (19-15) 7,123 69 (19-13) 7,325 66
2002-03 (18-16) 5,202 out (15-16) 8,584 54
2003-04 (15-14) 5,782 93 (18-17) 7,449 70
2004-05 (16-14) 4,614 out (24-8) 8,260 60
2005-06 (17-16) 5,725 93 (28-5) 9,949 42
2006-07 (12-18) 4,312 out (22-11) 10,706 38
2007-08 (21-13) 6,117 93 (22-13) 9,838 49
2008-09 (22-12) 5,933 90 (30-8) 9,404 52
2009-10 (29-6) 6,376 83 (25-8) 10,936 38
2010-11 (26-8) 5,925 90 (21-12) 10,511 38
2011-12 (24-8) 8,165 58 (13-19) 8,923 44
2012-13 (24-10) 5,917 96 (20-14) 8,022 55
2013-14 (9-22) 5,963 88 (29-5) 8,943 48
2014-15 (18-7) 5,622 ?? (21-2) 9,389 ??
Through Tuesday's games
- Bob Brookover