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GOLDSTEIN: Women’s basketball, volleyball deserve same Al McGuire Center atmosphere as men’s basketball

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Men's basketball sold out all three of their games in the Al McGuire Center this season.

Men's basketball sold out all three of their games in the Al McGuire Center this season.

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Men's basketball sold out all three of their games in the Al McGuire Center this season.

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As fans stomped, hollered and chanted their way through Marquette’s run in the National Invitation Tournament, it became hard not to notice the increased intensity for games at the Al McGuire Center.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center was a proud part of Marquette basketball history, and the new $500 million sports palace will be dandy as well. But there’s something about smaller gymnasiums that feels right for college sports. Students in the front row feel like they’re right on top of the players. Every cheer for a Marquette 3-pointer is ear-splitting instead of merely loud.

There’s no chance that the men’s basketball team will play frequently in the Al. It’s far too small for the amount of fan interest, which would make tickets exorbitantly expensive. The only way men’s basketball plays there again would be another undesirable NIT bid.

For those who are sentimental about never getting to partake in this kind of high-octane environment again, there’s good news. Two other teams – women’s basketball and women’s volleyball – play at least a dozen games per year there and are good enough to garner at least as much excitement. Sadly, they don’t.

Tickets for Marquette volleyball’s upset over a ranked Creighton Bluejays team did not sell out in under 15 minutes, as men’s basketball’s second round NIT game against Oregon did. Stated attendance for arguably the most exciting, significant volleyball home game of the past four years was 938 people, or roughly 25 percent of the Al’s capacity. That’s only the total number of people that either purchased or were given tickets for the game. Odds are that the actual number of people that showed up was lower.

Women’s basketball draws more people, but still not nearly enough. Outside of Milwaukee Public Schools Kids’ Day, where most seats are occupied by students, the team’s highest stated attendance was 2,438 people, or just under two-thirds of the Al McGuire Center’s capacity.

As a result, both of the Al McGuire Center’s full-time residents rarely get to experience what the men’s basketball team has for the last few games, even though they are both NCAA Tournament-caliber squads.

It’s unrealistic to expect women’s basketball or volleyball to sell out every Al game the way men’s basketball has in its brief stint, but they’ve been good enough for long enough to earn decent crowds. Volleyball has made the NCAA Tournament in seven consecutive seasons, and women’s basketball just did it in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1999 and 2000. Barring a meteor strike on the Al during game day, both teams will easily make the tournament again next season.

In light of all that, is it really too much to ask for a few more students to show up to volleyball and women’s basketball, especially when student tickets to both are free? Is there anything that makes those teams less worthy of Marquette fans’ time than men’s basketball?

Average attendance for women’s basketball and volleyball have risen in back-to-back seasons, which is encouraging. Give the athletic department partial credit for that. Reaching out to students by offering free food or Marquette gear has obviously enticed more people to at least give some of the traditionally smaller sports a try.

College sports are never going to be perfectly equal in the amount of attention they garner, nor should they be. Teams that don’t perform as well or sports that aren’t spectator-friendly obviously won’t draw well. Women’s basketball and volleyball don’t fall in either of those categories. Some version of the raucous cheers men’s basketball got this past week should also be there for the other teams.

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1 Comment

One Response to “GOLDSTEIN: Women’s basketball, volleyball deserve same Al McGuire Center atmosphere as men’s basketball”

  1. Scott Riehl on March 20th, 2018 2:35 pm

    Fully support the pitch and tenor of this article. Good to know the Marquette men’s lacrosse team, who has altered the Al during the NIT, are also big time supporters of these two women’s sports. Just look around the country the fan support is there, but as with all sports, fan support must be cultivated, it does not simply appear.

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