The present is an exciting time to be a Duquesne fan. Keith Dambrot has the program heading in the right direction. He quickly upgraded the talent on the roster focusing on adding size and bulk inside with quickness and distribution skills at guard. Defense is no longer optional. After surprising many by posting a even record in 2017-18 where he allocated five scholarships to transfers, the Dukes look poised to take even bigger steps forward this year starting 7-2 against much more difficult competition than they faced in Dambrot’s first season. If the Dukes win three of the next four, they’re likely to bring a top 100 RPI into Atlantic 10 play, huge for a program that’s eclipsed that mark once in the final rankings of the last ten seasons. On top of that, the school has plans for an upgraded arena and training facilities.
Make no mistake, the core fanbase is energized. Conversations I have had with our long time supporters are overwhelmingly positive. There is excitement among those who have been around for the longest. A number of season ticket holders that took a break during the Jim Ferry era, have renewed or at least gotten partial game season tickets. Problem is, that is still a relatively small number of people, and the Dukes haven’t captured the interest of the broader alumni base let alone the community at large despite the administration’s notable commitment. Attendance has been incredibly disappointing and while alums like to point the finger at students for not showing up, there are plenty of vacant paid seats as well.
So what will it take to get more butts in the seats? I’ve long argued that winning will fix what ails them, and more specifically, Duquesne will recapture the local interest in part when it wins the City Game on a fairly regular basis. I don’t think they need to win every year, but if they win three or four of ten, I believe they’ll make a lot of progress at the gates. I think they damaged a lot of good will directed their way since the Dambrot’s hiring when they failed to even keep this year’s contest competitive.
For the purposes of attendance, I think consistent city game performance might surpass a stray NCAA tournament appearance in terms of rebuilding interest in the program. Of course, making the Dance frequently would likely take them to the next level, but the Dukes are a long way from one bid let alone two or three in five years. In the shorter term, winning streaks have gone a long way to bring people back to the Palumbo. Problem is, as soon as the streak ends, so does the support. I’m sure my readers can name a few one and done games for fan support during Ron Everhart’s tenure. They failed to capitalize on any of them, but it’s difficult to say whether or not those big wins would kept people around.
I don’t think playing to .500 and missing out on the post season entirely will do the trick anymore. When Everhart lost his job, that bar got raised significantly. Performance over multiple years will develop loyalty that they simply can’t keep in the short run. Winning the City Game frequently will help establish them on much higher plain locally capturing casual fans and alums who have shifted their allegiance to the Panthers. NCAA tournaments will provide another level of payoff. One thing is for sure, the fans aren’t returning on the promise of better things to come. Duquesne will need to show results to get their support for more than one game a year.