When it comes to attendance at college football games across the nation, University of Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin and football coach Dan Mullen are well-versed in the issue as of late.
Rather than attribute the recent decrease to any one such issue, the gradual decrease has been tied to a multitude of issues, including but not limited to the rise in entertainment options, ease of access when it comes to viewing the game, and, one of the more likely culprits, the product on the field.
“I think one of the things that you look at is just the options fans have today. With all of the different outlets to see games, that it can make it a little bit more difficult,” Mullen said Monday. “The exciting part of being there is to say you were there. Right? No matter what you do and watch on TV, it’s still really exciting and it’s a lot of fun. But not like being there, you know, when you can feel the noise, when you can feel the energy, when you can feel the excitement.”
For Florida, which boasts a 15-3 record since Mullen arrived in Gainesville, the dip can no longer be tied to the latter; which leaves several possibilities — all of which seemingly fly in the face of the “Florida faithful” designation.
The decline in attendance isn’t unique to Florida, but it’s one that may prove to be the difference Saturday when UF takes the field for its most significant game of the season, if not the Mullen era to date.
In the aftermath of UF’s 38-0 win over Towson — which featured the smallest crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since the 1990 season — Mullen implored Gator fans to arrive early and in droves for the ensuing contest.
He doubled down just two days later, saying Auburn’s return to Gainesville for the first time in 12 seasons should entice those looking to capitalize on an infrequent interdivisional showdown.
“Nobody has seen Auburn in The Swamp since 2007. They’ve seen a lot of teams over and over in The Swamp, but not Auburn since 2007. And so I think that is a big draw that everyone will look at,” Mullen said. “I think for the fans and for the players, to have these games be played more often would be a benefit for everyone. That’s why you want to come to the SEC, to play big games and to play other SEC schools. So I think it would be great for these games to be played more often.”
However, despite all of the valid and vital reasons Mullen presented for a sizable home crowd, he left out the most beneficial aspect of crowd noise: its effect on the opposition.
With a freshman quarterback coming to town in Bo Nix, and in a game that should be decided on the line of scrimmage no less, the Gators have spent the week advocating for a raucous environment come Saturday.
“We need everybody there. That atmosphere, the crowd yelling, crowd screaming, they can’t hear. It’s going to mess them up. We need everybody there,” defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said. “The louder the better.”
Campbell isn’t just blowing smoke — the mentality behind designating Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as “The Swamp” was to create a fearful environment for the opposition. Considering that was anything but the case early against Towson, the Gators are hoping a sold-out stadium will serve as a boost when 3:30 p.m. rolls around.
Yet in case there were any skeptics or non-believers remaining, Campbell left little doubt as to why Florida fans should feel a personal responsibility, if not an obligation, to arrive early for a top-10 match-up: the crowd noise may limit what the opposition can do.
And in a conference contest between undefeated foes, that may more than be enough to prove the difference and keep the Gators undefeated through the first half of the season.
“Offense can’t hear, offense can’t do what they want to do, really they’ve got to go off the silent count,” Campbell said. “I don’t think most people know this but the crowd really does affect the offense. So that’s why I said we need everybody there, we need the atmosphere. Everybody.”
Who: No. 7 Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC) vs. No. 10 Florida (5-0, 2-0)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850