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Florida State Football Is Shedding Fans

Free Willie? Kids today...

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NCAA Football: Florida State at Boise State
 Aug 31, 2019; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart during the game against the Boise State Broncos at Doak Campbell Stadium. 
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

What do the head coaches of Wake Forest basketball and Florida State football have in common? You wouldn’t think there’d be much, but at least three things come to mind: Their teams are underwhelming, with losing cumulative records; their contracts obligate each school to a ridiculously large and dubiously justified buyout; and disaffected fans have stayed away from home games in droves.

At Wake Forest, able to hide data because it’s a private university, coach Danny Manning reportedly was awarded a contract through 2025 with an $18 million buyout that declines each year he stays. The fiscal firing protection was offered despite a single winning season in 2017 and was followed by consecutive 11-20 records.

Manning has seen 20 players leave with eligibility remaining. His teams have not finished better than 10th in the ACC in five tries since 2015. This lack of achievement, and a combined 25-71 ACC record including 1-5 in the league tournament, have depressed attendance at Joel Coliseum, capacity 14,407.

From a high of 9,685 the year Manning came over from Tulsa, average home crowds declined steadily to 7,626 last season, down nearly 25 percent since he took over.

At FSU, Willie Taggart inherited both a greater tradition of success and a larger, more devoted fan base. But Florida State supporters understandably are impatient with second-rate football.

Last year, in Taggart’s debut at Tallahassee, his team was 5-7, the school’s first losing record since 1978, Bobby Bowden’s inaugural season. Included were 49-point home losses to powerful Clemson and a 27-point defeat by arch-rival Florida. The 2018 season was the first in 36 years in which talent-rich FSU failed to get a bowl bid.

This year, after slipping by rebuilding Louisville at home, Taggart’s team is 2-2, with losses to Boise State (a home game moved on short notice from Jacksonville, Fla.) and Virginia (road), and an overtime escape at home against Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference.

Meanwhile attendance continues to plummet for a program that, over the five years from 2013-17, ranked 18th nationally, attracting an average of 75,718 fans for home games.

Only four home games remain, among them an unattractive season closer at Doak Campbell Stadium against Alabama State on Nov. 16. Potential big draws Florida and Clemson are road opponents.

FSU fan discontent is so keen, the Tallahassee Democrat ran a story about Grayton Grant, a 4-year-old who ran a lemonade stand called “Free Willie”. The child was raising money toward Taggart’s $17 million buyout.

Declining Attendance For FSU Football
(Through 3 Home Games in 2019, Asterisk Indicates ACC Champion)
Year Attendance
2013* 75,718
2014* 82,211
2015 73,219
2016 76,800
2017 70,983
2018 68,288
2019 50,172
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