To say excitement surrounding Ohio State’s men’s basketball team last season was dim would be an understatement.
Despite playing in the 10th-largest home arena in college basketball, Ohio State averaged the 24th-most fans per game last season (12,324) and was only at 64.7 percent capacity throughout the season (106th out of 351). The Schottenstein Center also failed to exceed 70 percent capacity in the 2015-16 season after finishing with 76.9, 86.5 and 86.7 percent in the 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13 seasons, respectively.
First-year head coach Chris Holtmann hopes to return to the years of a packed Schottenstein Center. Though Butler maintained consistent success before Holtmann arrived, the head coach brought a new level of excitement around the program, steadily increasing arena capacity from 81.0 percent his first year to 89.7 percent his second and 91.8 percent his final season.
The question for Holtmann becomes: How does he bring excitement back to an Ohio State program that has lacked it over the past two seasons?
“Well I’m not going to be doing cartwheels on the sidelines or anything. That’s for sure,” Holtmann said jokingly in an interview with The Lantern Wednesday. “I think how we play is really important.”
The success of the team will no doubt play a role in the enthusiasm in the fanbase and in the students. The reduced attendance over the past two seasons goes hand-in-hand with the struggles the team faced as Thad Matta’s squad posted two of the three worst records over his tenure, including his worst record last year. The two down seasons came after a long run of success in which the Buckeyes reached seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
The new personnel — both on the court and the sidelines — will more than likely not result in a drastically improved season. A best-case scenario for the team could be a place in the NIT or a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. The excitement generated by the new personnel could produce early season increases in attendance, but the new staff and players will have to do more to maintain that level throughout the season.
In his first full season as Butler head coach, Holtmann found a way to interact with the students and drive interest in the team. On Dec. 15, 2015, Holtmann went to a local Starbucks at Butler and bought coffee for every student at the coffee shop.
— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) December 14, 2015
Now at Ohio State, Holtmann has already begun his campaign to get students excited for men’s basketball. He gave donuts to students and parents on move-in day at the Schottenstein Center. If he has his way, that won’t be the last appearance he makes with the student body.
“I had some ideas that I tossed around with our staff and our marketing people yesterday about me getting back out with the students and kind of surprising the students in some different places on campus,” Holtmann said. “Because the reality is, we just arrived here. They don’t know me. They don’t know who I am. I get to walk around on campus right now and not many people know who I am and I’m looking forward just to spending some time getting to know them.”
It is not only important for Holtmann to get people in seats. Those people need to be energized while they are in them.
Beyond interacting with students on campus, Holtmann has ideas for recreating a more engaged student body inside the Schott. Holtmann mentioned that he would like to incorporate the singing of “Carmen Ohio” with the players and staff after every game — just as the football team does.
Holtmann said nearly every team in the Big Ten provides teams with tough environments to play in on the road. His goal is to make the Schott one of those.
“When I first took the job and I was on the road in July, [I] had someone, a Big Ten coach, come in and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get the Schottenstein Center rocking again because it hadn’t been rocking the past few years,’” Holtmann said. “And we’ve got a responsibility as a team to play in a way that would engage our fanbases — certainly our students, which is incredibly important.”
That coach actually told him, “Hey, you have to get the students back involved.”
Creating the raucous home environment ties right back into getting the students interested and involved. Holtmann said he knows the arena with 19,049 seats can be a challenging environment for opponents to play in should the student section make a strong showing at the games.
“Students bring a different energy,” Holtmann said. “There’s no question about it. And our students, I believe that I’ve watched games, bring a different energy.”
The product on the court will in all likelihood not be much better than last season. Holtmann admitted as much. But what he hopes to do is make sure that, even if the team isn’t winning a lot of games, it is involved and engaged with the fanbase.
If the Schott can be “rocking again,” the first year in the Holtmann era could get off to a better start than the record will show. In his pitch to students as to why they should show up to the games, the message was clear.
“Well, we need you,” Holtmann said. “I don’t know if that’s a pitch or not, but we certainly need them. The games feel differently when you have students there … We need them to be successful.”