Trying to grow the blue turf throng

The “Select Your Seat Open House” today at Albertsons Stadium is the first step toward what Boise State hopes is an attendance renaissance. New season ticket prospects can scan the available seats in the stadium and find a home for six games this fall. The Broncos hope to bounce back this year from last season’s average of 31,126, down more than 3,000 from their 2016 number. The season ticket count of 17,597 was a significant factor—that was nearly 2,000 fewer than the previous year’s count. That’s why this beautiful 78-degree spring day is important, just 4½ months after the Mountain West champions thumped Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl to finish 11-3.

The challenge of drawing fans is daunting for any college football team in this era of front row seats on the couch, from which fans can watch high-def cameras zoom in on fingertips and shoestrings from multiple angles—and stay warm on late November nights. Sellouts came easily when The TV experience wasn’t nearly as good, and kickoffs were 7 p.m. or earlier (and Kellen Moore was going 50-3 with 142 career touchdown passes). One way Boise State has tried to combat that is to leave season ticket prices the same in the main stadium for the fifth time in six years.

Mountain West attendance actually increased by almost 800 fans per game last year. There were extenuating circumstances, like Colorado State opening a new stadium, Fresno State coming back from the dead, and a favorable home schedule for San Diego State (three crowds of 40,000-plus, topped by 49,000 for Boise State). The Aztecs led the MW with 39,347 fans per game, followed by CSU at 32,062, the Broncos at 31,126 and the Bulldogs at 30,632.

Provo has long been one of the West’s premiere football towns, along with Eugene and Missoula. But BYU’s 4-9 season in 2017 took its toll, with average attendance at LaVell Edwards Stadium only 56,266 (low by BYU standards). The Cougars drew only 46,451 for San Jose State, one of the smallest crowds since the facility’s expansion 35 years ago. One of the other key factors other than winning (or lack thereof) is football independence, which creates a generally unattractive schedule during the back half of the season. LaVell Edwards Stadium holds 63,470 and used to sell out regularly, but it has reached that number only twice in the past three seasons—for Utah last year and for Boise State in 2015.

The first wave of NFL rookie minicamps wrapped up Monday. This is the big week for most of the newcomers out of Boise State. By my count, with the signing of Marcus Henry by Seattle, the number of former Broncos on NFL rosters right now is 20 (not counting the tryout players). Billy Winn, who spent last season in injured reserve, is not on the Denver roster, and Shea McClellin is still without a team as he weighs his future options. Elsewhere, former Idaho punter Austin Rehkow was released yesterday by the New York Giants.

The rich get richer. Talent-rich, anyway. Hopefully Nevada remembers that there’s only one ball on the court at a time, because the Wolf Pack has signed another graduate transfer, Ehab Amin from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Amin, who grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, is a 6-4 guard and chose the Pack over Wichita State and Texas Tech. He missed last season due to hip surgery but averaged 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in 2016-17. Amin has one year of eligibility, so he has floor time expectations. And San Diego State has picked up arguably Washington State’s best player, point guard Malachi Flynn, who averaged 15.8 points and 4.3 assists for the Cougars as a sophomore last season. Flynn scored 24 points against the Aztecs in the Wooden Legacy last November. Now he is one. He’ll have to sit out next season.

Former Boise Hawk Josh Donaldson was part of big league history last night. At least he was a footnote. Donaldson grounded out to end the first no-hitter even thrown in Canada by a Canadian, as the Mariners’ James Paxton shut down the Blue Jays 5-0 in Toronto. Paxton, a 29-year-old lefthander from Ladner, BC, threw only 99 pitches as he peaked at 100 miles per hour with his fastball. “I mean, Josh Donaldson, the guy’s pretty good. So I was like, ‘I better bring my best stuff here,'” Paxton said of reaching 100 on his final pitch. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna let it rip, top of the zone, and see what happens.’ And then he smoked that ball to third base, and (Kyle) Seager made an amazing play.” It was the third no-hitter of the season in the majors, and they’ve been thrown in three different countries.

Finally, attendance notes from another sport. The Idaho Steelheads had a good season at the gate in 2017-18, reporting yesterday that they announced sellouts for 18 of their 36 home games. That represents twice the number of sellouts from the season before and three more than the last two seasons combined. In fact, the 18 sold-out dates were the organization’s most in 18 years, since the old WCHL days. The Steelies averaged 4,309 fans per game.

This Day In Sports…May 9, 1918, 100 years ago today:

A Boston Red Sox pitcher has five hits but takes the loss in a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Washington Senators. His name was Babe Ruth, and the next season he would give up pitching to become an everyday outfielder and hitter. Ruth clubbed a then-staggering 29 home runs for the Red Sox in 1919—then was traded to the Yankees, and you know what happened from then on. In Boston, the trade became the “Curse of the Bambino”, finally extinguished with the Red Sox World Series title in 2004.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)