Building Up a Fan Base

I became a fan of the Dukes the hard way. Simply by going to games at a very early age I became hooked on the red and blue. Both of my parents are Duquesne graduates but it is my Uncle, also an alumnus, who I have to thank in regards to my love of the Dukes. It was in those early years that I was hooked on DU. Being an avid follower of sports for as long as I can remember going to real live games offered great opportunities to me. Going through the gates and the turnstiles, making my way to the wooden benches on the East side of Palumbo, hearing the band and watching large men play their hearts out on a parquet surface was more than enough to make the synapses in my head fire relaying the sentence that this is my team. Back then the Dukes were bad, really bad. The futility has always been admirable to me as my mom has roped me into being a Pirates fan in a similar fashion. She taught me how to embrace losing, and so I have for many years.

The program was stagnant for several years but the nature of college basketball is that one guy can turn it all around. There is a reason that coaches are the ones that make the ship go. Coaches bring in the players, develop talent and make other several key decisions that directly translate to wins and losses. In the hiring of Ron Everhart, we got lucky. Everhart has been able to turn the program around almost immediately leading the Dukes to winning campaign in only his second season.  We even have been fortunate that the Dukes have not had too much success too soon or it is quite likely that the phone would begin to ring for Everhart with someone on the other end making an offer too good to turn down. With no natural successor in place that would have been a critical blow to the basketball program. Had the Dukes pulled out a win in the 2008 Atlantic 10 Tournament things could be different and likely for the worse.

I am not of the opinion that Ron Everhart is an amazing coach or irreplaceable. He does everything a college coach should do well without being particularly exceptional at any one aspect. Despite this, he is about as good a front man Duquesne could have. With him in place things have gotten better. The Dukes started winning more games and more people have begun to care about the program.

I often joke that as a hardcore Duquesne basketball fan, that there are thirty of us. While I may be selling ourselves short a little, the fact remains that there are simply not that many people who care deeply about the team. The ranks are growing however and that’s a good thing. A good way to tell if someone at Palumbo is a true fan is if they care about where their ticket says they are sitting as opposed to simply taking an available bench spot like we pros do. That might be the most annoying aspect of going to games now. Thankfully, all the seats will be chair-backs so that should no longer be an issue.

Simply because that annoyance exists is a good thing. That means more people care on regular enough basis that they come to games sporadically. It seems as if step one of building a fan base is well on its way. The First step is obviously the improvement of the program. The program has gone from A-10 bottom feeder with 300 something RPI to the top half of the league in four years. If the team makes the next step to becoming an annual contender the ranks will grow even more.

The next step is creating an atmosphere in which people will be drawn in. Games should be loud and fun. Palumbo is designed nicely to fulfill this purpose. It is big enough to create a tough road environment and and small enough that with continued success it can be filled at capacity regularly. There are many students and grads that are connected to the school but most don’t care, but they would if given the opportunity. Look at Pitt for example. Fitzgerald Field House was almost as dead as Palumbo in the ’90s. As the program has progressed there are many people who care now. The same thing can happen to us.

Another key factor i see in building a program is getting the team on television regularly. The Athletic Director Greg Amodio has done a solid job in procuring television spots for Duquesne games. The Dukes have been on TV (national or  regional) multiple times the last few seasons but that should not be the end of it. Ideally, the Dukes will be able to broadcast most of their games locally like Pitt does. Unfortunately for the Dukes, the Atlantic 10 does not have as a big of a deal with CBS Sports as the Big East has with ESPN. Much of the work has to be done by the school itself. However, A-10 schools like Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island regularly broadcast their games, thus it can be done. Duquesne is probably not quite at that level yet though. The more the Dukes can be on TV, the more eyeballs can be put on the team and as such more fans can be awakened from their slumber.

The Field of Dreams truism holds, “build it and they will come”. As the program has and continues to improve more fans will come out of the woodwork. Everhart is the major key to the success, so we don’t want to lose him too soon and return back to the doldrums. The program must continue to make the atmosphere at Palumbo as fun as possible so that I never have to yell over another Dayton fan again. The Dukes need to make a concerted effort to get on TV or else languish in the dark like so many other mid major programs do. I do not think that Duquesne could accrue a comparable amount of fans as Pitt but we can get to the Dayton range. Lets hope for the team to continue to get better and when the Dukes are competing for an A-10 title the fans will be there.

Dukes Release Schedule

On Tuesday, the Dukes released their schedule for the 2010-11 season. It possesses many familiar opponents but stands out in regard to the overall strength of opponent. Duquesne has faced a relatively poor schedule the last few seasons in a effort to bolster the team’s confidence going into conference play. This would seem to be a sign of confidence by head coach Ron Everhart and his staff that the Dukes are ready to take the next step towards becoming a perennial Atlantic 10 contender.

Familiar conference opponents include Pitt and West Virginia, two Big East powers that should compete for their league’s title again.  Similarly, the Dukes will face cross town rival Robert Morris, coming off a tough loss in NCAA Tournament to the 2 seed Villanova. Also, the second legs of home-and-home series will be concluded in Pitsburgh with quality mid major programs IUPUI and George Mason. Added to that list are Green Bay and Bowling Green, members of higher level mid major conferences. Softer competition includes UMBC, Northwestern State and Norfolk State and Houston Baptist.

As far as the Atlantic 10 schedule goes, it is more favorable than it otherwise could have been. The Dukes will face off twice against Dayton, Saint Louis and Saint Bonaventure. Duquesne traditionally plays well against Dayton, but many prognosticators are touting them to win the league after their NIT championship run (note: I’m not among them). Saint Louis is a tough opponent for the Dukes with their slow pace and fantastic coach. Saint Bonaventure is similarly a difficult matchup due to Sophmore big man Andrew Nicholson, who gave the Dukes fits due to the lack of quality size in the front court.

Duquesne does catch a few breaks in getting to play top league opponents, Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island and Charlotte at home. The remaining A-10 games will be on the road with a date at Richmond appearing  as the most difficult contest. Overall, the quality of opponent for the 2010-11 season should be stronger and this season will demonstrate much about the program going forward. If the team is successful (20 wins or so) it should mark the shift to a full time A-10 contender. If not, it might mean more bottom feeders on the schedule and limited potential in regards to post season appearances.