It seems like every game where Pitt has poor attendance, the same obvious question comes up: "Why?" Well, I think that I can answer that question, at least from a student section standpoint. Some of the possibilities that often are brought up on radio shows and in other articles are things like ticket price, subpar play, lack of interest, time of game, and the lack of an on-campus stadium. I want to hit on all of these possibilities and clear up why or why they aren't the right reason as to why the student section seems a little small at times.
At $25.00 per season ticket, admitting students to eight home games this season (about $3/game), the ticket price is incredible in my opinion. I know that some other schools have free admission in to their student sections, but Pitt shares Heinz Field with the Pittsburgh Steelers and need to make at least some money to keep the place running. To be honest I would pay even more for the tickets if I had to. Okay, so that isn't the reason.
How about poor play on the field as a reason that fans don't want to attend? Nope, wrong again. Maybe when it comes to some of the other areas of the stadium this may be true in a sense, but when it comes to the student section not filling up, this has virtually no bearing when it comes to attendance numbers. Students will come to the games almost regardless of their team's play on the field. Half of the students don't even watch the game enough to care who wins or loses - it's all just a social event for some people.
The lack of interest is also false considering football is the most popular sport in the country. Living in Pittsburgh, the Steelers clearly take up a lot of the attention. Some have argued that this lack of room for another team leads Pittsburghers to be disinterested when it comes to college football. That isn't the case, though. Pittsburgh residents are Steelers fans, football fans, and sports fans. Trust me, the city is very interested in college football even if it can't rival that of the Steelers.
One of the first real reasons for the lower attendance numbers is the time that most of the games are played. I realize that the student section was small for the South Florida game, but much of that was due to the fact it was on a Thursday game and lots of students had either night class, homework to do, or simply had class early the next morning. At Pitt, just like any school, the courseload can be pretty rigorous. Students spend hours and hours doing homework and sometimes just can't make it to the games, so instead they watch it on TV.
Back to the time, though. College kids go to parties on the weekends, just a fact of life. After a long night of alcohol consumption and laps around Oakland, students are tired in the mornings ... maybe more often than not. Most of Pitt's games end up starting at noon. This game time calls for an alarm set to wake up at 9:00 A.M. By time the average Pitt student rolls out of bed, gets ready to go out in to public, and takes a bus to the North Shore to Heinz Field, it is already after eleven in the morning and, what you might not realize, is that the lower bowl of the stadium is no longer accepting students. Sitting in the second level of the stadium is not nearly as fun as the lower bowl and if a student is running late, staying at home might be a better alternative than sitting in the uppers. I have only sat in that section once and if I had to do it again, I would consider going back home and watching on ESPN.
The whole "taking a bus to the North Shore" thing is my last point and probably the most important one. I have heard multiple times on radio shows, people calling in and talking about the lack of an on-campus facility and how it affects the student attendance. Most of the time such talk is dismissed due to the fact that Heinz Field is just a great place and it is much nicer than just about any college stadium in the country when it comes to locker rooms, seat quality, and curb appeal. I definitely agree with that and the place is awesome. If it's good enough for the Steelers then it is definitely good enough for the Panthers. What I don't agree with is that the distance from campus isn't affecting the turnout, because it definitely is.
Those students that I spoke about earlier who struggle to make it to the stadium for a myriad of reasons would probably be at the game if it was on campus. If they only had to walk a few blocks to "Pitt Stadium" rather than hop on a bus, trust me, they'd attend. Everyone needs a break from studying, so why not take a break for an hour and a half and watch until halftime? Sure, buses start leaving Heinz Field at this time, but it just isn't the same. In order to get near the front row or anywhere near the field on game days, students actually have to ride a Port Authority bus into downtown, walk across the Clemente Bridge, past PNC Park, and finally end up at Heinz Field. I've made this trek many times and, trust me, ...it really sucks. And it's even worse for a noon game because that means you're getting ready at seven or eight in the morning after a long night.
If the games started at 3:30 P.M., like the upcoming one at Rutgers, on occasion and the stadium was on campus, the student section would be full just like those of other universities that talk down on Pitt's attendance. The support is there, the students love their team. Sometimes, though, schoolwork has to come first and the hassle of riding a bus back and forth to the stadium turns students away that have studying to get done. Heinz Field is beautiful and I love going there for games, but I am also a fan of the team, college football in general, and a self-proclaimed sports fanatic. For those that are there to just watch a little football, eat some food (and don't even get me started on the price of food at Heinz Field), and have a good time with their friends; the minor inconveniences that come with Heinz Field are what cause them to stay away.