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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Matched up with the basketball program, Arizona football falls short

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Colin Prenger / Arizona Daily Wildcat

This week, the Arizona football team has its bye. But soon it will be jostling for attention with the UA men’s basketball program.

If it’s Sean Miller versus Rich Rodriguez In a fist fight, my money is on Rodriguez, the head football coach and former Division I defensive back. As entertaining as that hypothetical fight would be, the battle of popularity will favor the basketball head honcho.

Rodriguez previously coached at West Virginia and Michigan, both predominantly football schools. At Arizona, basketball leads football every time, without fail. That comes largely as a result of the long winning tradition of the basketball team, dating back to the days of former head coach Lute Olson and also because of the football team’s history of mediocrity.

After Wednesday’s Media Day, excitement is starting to build for the fast approaching basketball season.

The season-opening Red-Blue game is on Oct. 21, the day after Arizona football’s bout with Washington. That’s why the lack of an Arizona football game this Saturday with the Wildcats’ bye week couldn’t be coming at a worse time for the football team or for Rodriguez, who’s spoken at length about his intention to make the UA football program a relevant one.

Sure, the Wildcats are bruised and battered, which is probably a byproduct of the 344 combined plays in the last two weeks, but three straight losses have put a damper on the excitement built from Arizona’s season-opening three wins.

Typically when basketball season starts, eyes start turning away from Wildcats football. When Arizona has won games though, its football team has managed to get attention even into the start of basketball season.

In 2010, the Wildcats were 5-1 heading into their Oct. 23 game against Washington, which had a sellout crowd of 56,244, and this was the year Arizona basketball made its run to the Elite Eight.

This year’s hoops squad has high expectations — Sporting News ranked the UA No. 8 in its preseason poll — and the football team doesn’t after three straight losses.

But if the Wildcats pull out a victory against the Huskies this season they will be 4-3, two games from a bowl berth and just two games out of first place in the Pac-12 South.

Arizona hasn’t exactly packed its stadium with fans though.

Arizona Stadium’s maximum occupancy dropped from 56,100 in 2011 to 51,811 this year due to north end zone seating construction.

Despite the reduced seating availability, the Wildcats are struggling to fill the seats.

When the Wildcats welcomed their marquee, non-conference opponent in week two, Oklahoma State, Arizona fell more than 6,000 fans short of filling the stadium. ZonaZoo typically fills up nicely at the outset of games, but rarely does it stay that way past halftime.

The attendance numbers haven’t gotten much better since week two, as there were 2,000 less fans against South Carolina State and an additional 1,000 less against then-No. 18 Oregon State.

Arizona takes on Washington Oct. 20, and one day later is the Red-Blue scrimmage — essentially putting the basketball and football teams in competition for the public’s attention.

For the football team, piquing the Arizona fan base’s interest is an exercise in volatility, and it will be much harder once the Red-Blue game takes place.

The 1987-88 men’s basketball team will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its trip to the Final Four. Wildcat legends like Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott and Olson will be in attendance.

As for the football team, it might not even win against the Huskies regardless of what week the game falls on. The attendance numbers might also be padded a bit because of family weekend, but as the transition into “basketball-mode” begins, the already lacking enthusiasm for the rest of the football season will dwindle.

“For us to have the Final Four team here says it all,” head coach Sean Miller said.

He wasn’t talking about the diversion of attention from the football program, but he might as well have been.

“Between Jud [Buechler], Steve [Kerr] and Sean Elliott, those guys have [eight] NBA championship rings,” Miller said. “That’s one college team.”

Your move, Rodriguez.

— Zack Rosenblatt is the sports editor. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or via Twitter @ZackBlatt

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