SEATTLE — Seeking to understand the whims of Pac-12 basketball fans, I plunged into their psyches the other day, at least to the extent afforded by conference statistics.
The idea was to study whether men’s basketball attendance figures are being affected by the new TV-driven, bizarro-world of Wednesday-night games, 6 p.m. tipoffs and Sunday-night dates that cause the visiting team to start the workweek on four hours’ sleep.
It’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions. Six schools’ average attendance numbers (for conference games only) are up over 2011-12, six are down. You can spin this in a variety of ways. You could say that given all the new accommodations to TV, and all the conveniences to fans’ traditional habits, these are mild shifts.
I’d contend that in a conference where native basketball interest already tends to be less rabid than other areas of the country, some of these ought to be cautionary numbers to the league — especially coming off a 2011-12 season in which the Pac-12 was widely judged to be at its competitive worst in history.
Other reasons the numbers might elicit a raised eyebrow in Walnut Creek, Calif., where the league fathers are already mulling the advisability of spreading the product to other nights:
• Oregon is down slightly, despite a 7-0 league start, reaching a No. 10 national ranking and apparently being destined for the NCAA tournament.
• Utah’s increase of 12.6 percent comes a year after the Utes’ worst season (6-25) in school history.
• UCLA’s uptick is no doubt based partly on its move into a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion.
• Arizona’s upward nudge is statistically insignificant at a venue that routinely attracts 14,000-plus.
• Washington State’s 14 percent improvement seems startling — until you realize last year’s baseline included a crowd of 3,119 for Stanford amid a major winter storm, and shockingly low turnouts for traditional heavyweights UCLA (4,204) and Arizona (3,616).
Meanwhile, the experiences of California, Stanford and Washington — traditionally all with rousing home-court advantages — might be viewed as a concern. While all three have had their competitive challenges, none has exactly fallen off the map (and Washington was buoyed by a 4-0 league start). Yet all are enduring double-digit decreases in attendance.
Yes, the team’s play matters in a big way. But the suspicion here is that in a vast metropolitan area, when the start time or night is a hassle, it’s easy to point the car in the direction of home, where you know the game is on TV.
Sixteen times this season, the home crowd for a league game hasn’t reached 5,000.
Recently, Colorado coach Tad Boyle was candid in assessing why the league’s percentage of home victories (59 percent, on a 39-27 record) is relatively low.
“I don’t know if our arenas are packed,” he said. “You look around the conference, you don’t have a lot of full arenas.”