Six miles separate the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center and the University of Michigan Crisler Center. Tuesday nights “Battle for Washtenaw County” continues when the Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team travels those six miles to take on the University of Michigan Wolverines.
This rivalry seems rather one-sided, but in the grand scheme of things it means more than one would think. In 29 meetings, Eastern has come away with two wins. Will this year add a third? And would a win make any difference in attendance at the Convo?
This year, Eastern Michigan’s home attendance has been averaging around 840 fans per game and these numbers have been consistently bad over the past 10 years. The student section has shown some progress this year at games like Oakland and Youngstown State, but overall the arena has been overwhelmingly quiet.
Additionally, the average attendance number is slightly skewed because the first game of the year, against St. Francis (Ill.), pulled in 2859 fans primarily due to the elementary students attending a field trip for Education Day.
One of the most common excuses used by students for not showing up is, “Well they aren’t very good,” which has not been valid the past three years.
The Eagles have shown continued improvement since Head Coach Rob Murphy took over in 2011. This season, Eastern is off to one of their best starts in the past 20 years. The Eagles are currently undefeated at home and came very close to beating Dayton on the road last Saturday. You may remember Dayton from last year’s NCAA Elite Eight.
Dayton is another mid-major team, similar to Eastern. The big difference? The fan support there is, to put it bluntly, crazy. At Saturday’s game, they had 12,243 fans in attendance and it felt like triple that number. Not bad for a school with enrollment under 11,000 in 2013.
With almost 20,000 students at EMU, not including faculty and alumni, 10,000 fans in the Convocation Center on any given night seems like it should be relatively possible. Yet we are lucky to pull in 1,000.
You can’t give the excuse that the games “aren't entertaining.” Rob Murphy’s teams constantly come out and bring energy. They have made ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays two years in a row and have made steady progression in the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland year after year.
So if that is no longer a valid excuse, then do we chalk it up to big brother Wolverine once again?
Well Michigan is coming off a bad loss to the New Jersey Institute of Technology Saturday night. The last time EMU and Michigan faced off, none of the current Eagles played in the game. The only two even on the roster were Mike Talley (redshirted) and Ray Lee (injury). Tuesday's match-up brings a lot of uncertainty ,but one thing is sure -- Michigan will pack the place.
Both of these teams are relatively young and inexperienced, but both have tremendous coaches in Rob Murphy and John Beilein.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Eastern has defeated a Big Ten team. Just two years ago Purdue came to the Convocation Center and EMU won in a thrilling 47-44 game. The attendance for that game? 1,790.
So if Eastern Michigan goes into Crisler Center and defeats Michigan on their home court, what happens next? Will students and alumni finally start attending games? Or will they continue to make up excuses as to why they don’t show up?
One thing is certain--even if the students don't show, the basketball team will.
Follow Andrew Mascharka on Twitter: @amascharka