Increase victories and support will follow

mlough@macon.comMarch 8, 2012 

Oh, what it could have been.

I was fully prepared for -- and sit down for this one -- to be turned away at the door ... of a Mercer sporting event.

The phrase is utterly remarkable to think, let alone say out loud.

Granted, a fair portion of the tickets would have been fan freebies, but just getting the effort of driving, parking and walking is a start.

The atmosphere when Mercer played Belmont in the regular-season finale as well as the two A-Sun tournament games was quality. Here was honest to goodness March Madness.

More than one person wondered, “Why isn’t it like this more often?”

And the reason remains the same: Mercer doesn’t draw consistently because Mercer hasn’t won consistently.

A conference tournament game is different than a visit from Emory, Piedmont or a struggling A-Sun team. And when only three conference schools are within four hours, it’s hard to get fans to travel.

It isn’t necessarily that our fickle area doesn’t get it.

Frankly, Macon has more issues with supporting music, theater and the arts. The faction that whines about nothing to do is a faction that tends to lack the intellectual versatility to do much more than eat, drink and watch TV.

Those people grumble about a lack of options, but A) don’t give any place more than one try or B) would settle down into the same five establishments and see the same 150 people if they moved to Atlanta (and man, I wish they would).

A bigger question might be why Mercer baseball doesn’t draw more.

It’s the most successful team program in the past several years, with only women’s soccer as legitimate competition. Baseball has had six non-losing seasons out of its past seven, and the Bears will make it seven out of eight this season in the hunt for their second NCAA trip in three years.

Plus, Macon is probably more of a baseball town than basketball town, although it sure was a hoops haven back in the day.

The University Center is a nice facility, but only in the movies will they come simply if you build it.

The regular ticket giveaways are logical: People are skeptical about success at Mercer because there isn’t much.

And when teams don’t win, people don’t think about them, and that’s the issue. When teams don’t win, people aren’t missing much by not showing up.

So forgive Maconites, and many Mercer folks and students, for that skepticism.

It is, however, changing a bit.

Men’s basketball, as we’ve discussed, hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1994-96, a pair of 15-14 seasons. And it took a decade for that to happen after Mercer went 22-9 and 15-14 from 1984-86, which was followed by no momentum.

But momentum sells tickets.

Now, however, Mercer is built for 20-win seasons. We can go ahead and lock in Mercer’s first run of three straight winning seasons since 1979-82.

Sure, it was disappointing that Macon didn’t take more advantage of the A-Sun tournament just for the experience, but it’s no different than most other mid-major conferences without a hometown presence. Just watch ESPN all week, and you’ll see plenty of empty seats. Those hosts are missing out, too.

That can start to change Tuesday with a Tournament game at the University City. The Bears will host Tennessee State in that contest.

So it will be good basketball. And as people see that more good -- and winning -- basketball is being played on a consistent basis, going to watch on a regular basis will become more of a habit.

A habit that can take shape Tuesday night.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626

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