Arkansas State says it's been `generous' with attendance figures

Updated: January 31, 2005, 1:07 AM ET
Associated Press

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Arkansas State University's athletic director says the school has been "generous" when announcing basketball figures and acknowledges that the number of people buying season tickets for Indian basketball games has been tracking downward for several years.

Documents obtained by The Jonesboro Sun through the state Freedom of Information Act show that the announced attendance exceeds the actual count at the gate and that season ticket sales for the sport have been dropping for six years.

Athletic Director Dean Lee, at the school for three years, said Friday that, "Quite honestly, it's a pretty generous count that we have."

"It's one that is, in most cases, that is fairly accurate. You try to be as generous as possible. If we're going to err, we're going to err on the positive side," he said.

Lee said Arkansas State has a history of announcing attendance figures with "gross exaggerations across the board."

Announced average attendance reached 6,616 during the Indians' 1998-99 season, when Arkansas State made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. So far this season, the average attendance is 4,161 -- the lowest in the 18-year history of the Convocation Center.

Lee said although the announced attendance numbers are false, they are embellished to benefit the program and for appearance's sake among other schools in the Sun Belt Conference.

"I would say not most, but just about everybody exaggerates attendance," Lee said. "We have. I don't think there is probably an institution (that hasn't).

"We want to stand for a little bit stronger integrity from that side."

Lee said the important figure in department finances is the season ticket sales, because they are the bread-and-butter for generating revenue. Also important are walk-up ticket sales, student tickets and complimentary tickets used, he said.

Arkansas State sold 2,390 season tickets this year, which is lower than the 2,773 in 1996-97, which was coach Dickey Nutt's first year at Jonesboro. Season tickets hit a peak of 3,256 in 1999.

Nutt is in the final year of his contract. Lee declined to renew the contract after a season review last year.

Nutt said he is disappointed that fans are not showing up in the numbers that they have been in the past.

"I'm sorry for that," Nutt said. "I take full responsibility for that, and I know that that's all part of a basketball coach's job."

Nutt is the third-winningest coach in Arkansas State history and has an all-time record of 146-131. As of Friday night, Arkansas State led the Sun Belt's eastern division.

While ticket sales have gone down, ticket prices have also gone up. They were $7 each when the Convocation Center opened in 1987 and now top out at $16.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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