LINCOLN — Scratch the thought that Nebraska needs to sell beer to get people in its new building for men's basketball.
The NU athletic program announced Friday afternoon — 190 days before the 2013-14 season starts — that 15,174-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena has been sold out in season tickets.
OK, now pick yourself off the floor and read that again.
A Nebraska basketball program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in 15 years, hasn't won a conference title in 63 years and is coming off a 10th-place finish in the Big Ten could play to a full house for a full year.
“It's a very special moment,” said Husker basketball administrator Marc Boehm, who admitted he looked out the window Friday to see if pigs were flying by. “It goes to show that the fans are the real heroes here.”
The old record for season-ticket sales was 12,000 in 1992-93 at the 13,595-seat Devaney Center.
Then, Nebraska was in the third year of a four-year NCAA tourney run; featured popular homegrown stars in Eric Piatkowski and Bruce Chubick; and welcomed a nationally acclaimed recruiting class with more local talent in Erick Strickland, Jaron Boone and Andre Woolridge.
The attractions are fancy new digs, reasonable ticket prices and the message of hope that second-year coach Tim Miles has peddled after going 15-18.
Did we mention the new building won't even be done until Aug. 14?
With such little to go on and one scholarship Nebraskan on the roster, Husker officials weren't sure how many tickets would sell. The internal number was 11,000, but early on that seemed like more hope than goal.
“We thought 11,000 would be pretty significant,” Boehm said. “But to sell it out and do it this early was something truthfully we didn't expect.”
(By the way, the no-alcohol policy for the coming season is official, Boehm said. It could be revisited in the future.)
Boehm offered two critical statistics Friday to indicate real (and necessary) change is coming to the makeup of crowds at Nebraska.
First, of the new season-ticket accounts, 53 percent were from Lincoln addresses. Said Boehm: “That was staggering to us.”
It's also a major breath of fresh air. Basketball crowds in recent years essentially had devolved into a hardcore 5,000 Lincolnites who dutifully filled their seats and then 1,000 to 2,000 wanderers from elsewhere. New blood is critical to any revival of Husker hoops.
Second, the average account size of new sales was 2.7 tickets. To Boehm, that indicates a larger number of family buys.
That also is huge. Young blood with the energy to get loud is essential to making sure the “Lincoln Library” atmosphere doesn't transfer from Devaney to Pinnacle.
Some of this stuff I can't believe I'm typing.
Starting at the old NU Coliseum in 1975, my freshman year of college, I've had some connection with Nebraska men's basketball as a ticket buyer or sportswriter for 38 years. Suffice it to say, lowlights have outnumbered highlights.
It's not crazy to think a big fan base can be built for NU basketball. Occasionally during the past four decades, the pent-up demand has exploded into full-blown backing of the program.
I'll never forget the first time scalpers appeared outside the Devaney Center during the 26-8 season of 1990-91. It choked me up a little.
Going back through my clip files Friday, I saw stories with phrases such as “in front of the fifth straight sellout crowd.” I see a Monday afternoon game during holiday break in the early 1990s against Wisconsin-Green Bay. The attendance: 14,239.
So despite basketball often being a black-sheep program in an overall ultra-successful department, red people will come out if there is something to see.
For now, it appears what they want to eyeball is the new arena. Hey, whatever it takes. This program will take any jolt it can get.
Someone asked Friday if Nebraska is worried now about not having tickets for walk-up patrons.
Really? If that's what passes as a big problem in NU men's basketball, then bring it on. That's the kind of headache Husker administrators would love to get used to.
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