- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ATLANTA | Virginia Tech is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s only Top 25 team — on the field and in the stands.

The No. 16 Hokies are the only ACC team to sell out every home game.

Empty seats can be found all around the ACC, as reflected in NCAA stats which track attendance by percentage of stadium capacity.

Overall, the 12 ACC teams have filled just 87.23 percent of seats, leaving the league on pace for its fifth decline in the last six years.

Coaches and league officials blame the drop on the economy and on-field performance.

And just because you build it, fans won’t come in the ACC. Some of the conference’s largest venues — Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech — have the most empty seats:

— The Seminoles have not had a home sellout since 2008. Florida State had four sellouts in 2006, two in 2007 and one in 2008.

The average turnout in Tallahassee for five home games is 68,868, well below the capacity of 82,300.

“The economy, the recession, has been a large part of what we’ve seen and what our fans have told us,” said Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman. “Winning is the key more than anything. We’re rebuilding, coming off a year where we didn’t have as much success as we wanted last year.”

Florida State has lost two straight after a 6-1 start and has home games remaining against Clemson and Florida to boost its attendance.

— Clemson’s Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 81,500. There were empty gaps in the upper decks when 74,000 attended last week’s home win over N.C. State.

Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips said the Tigers’ Nov. 27 home game against South Carolina is a sellout. Clemson only has one sellout thus far, against Miami.

“It’s been a tough time for a lot of people and we didn’t know how much that might affect football attendance,” Phillips said. “But our people have been great.”

— Georgia Tech is the defending ACC champion but has not had a home sellout this season. Bobby Dodd Stadium holds 55,000. Attendance has been under 50,000 for the Yellow Jackets’ last three home games, including ACC contests against N.C. State and Virginia.

Georgia Tech’s attendance rises in odd-numbered years, when Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia visit Atlanta. Last year’s average for the attractive schedule was 51,584; this year’s average has dropped to 47,290.

“The home schedule probably in some people’s eyes wasn’t as good,” said coach Paul Johnson. “But I’ve got more to worry about than that.”

The ACC filled 94.5 percent of its seats in 2004. It was the high mark of seven straight seasons, from 2001-08, with more than 90 percent of tickets sold.

Last year, ACC venues were only 87.5 percent filled.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe predicts attendance in the ACC will grow as rivalries develop.

“It’s just a matter of time when ACC football is going to take a big jump in the direction we all want it to,” Cutcliffe said.

Cutcliffe, the former Ole Miss head coach and assistant at Tennessee and Notre Dame, said the ACC plays “somewhat of what you’d call a young brand of football” following the additions of Florida State in 1991, Miami and Virginia Tech in 2005 and Boston College in 2005.

“We’ve got a pretty interesting league, and it’s starting to look like a big melee with a lot of people being able to beat a lot of people,” Cutcliffe said. “… I think people are going to kind of get used to the rivalries and get used to the brands of a football rivalry.

“So those things will help increase attendance, will help increase habits that lead to a lot of people coming to ball games.”

Cutcliffe’s optimism is understandable. Duke attendance has climbed more than 10,000 per game since its 2006 average of 19,580 with former coach Ted Roof. Duke’s 2010 average is 29,785 at Wallace Wade Stadium, where the capacity is 33,941.

Virginia Tech fans have delivered six sellouts in six home games, not including 86,587 at the season-opening loss to Boise State in Landover, Md.

The Hokies are tied for 17th in the nation in the NCAA’s ranking of teams selling the greatest percentage of tickets. No other ACC team makes the top 25 of the list.

Virginia Tech’s latest home sellout of 66,233 cheered a 28-21 win over Georgia Tech last Thursday night. Johnson said the fans were a factor.

“I can tell you one thing, Blacksburg is pretty loud,” Johnson said. “I’ve had the opportunity through the years to play in front of probably 95,000 people and I’ve never played anywhere that was any louder than Blacksburg was on Thursday night, especially when the game got tight there in the second half. It became really loud. Our guys had a hard time hearing.”

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said the Hokies’ tradition has helped the school sell out games in the difficult economy.

“I think we just have terrific fans,” Beamer said Wednesday. “I think the game experience here at Blacksburg is terrific. They get here, they tailgate, they get in that stadium by kickoff. They’re not going to be late because I think they feel like they help us win, and they do. Our fans for sure help us win here at Virginia Tech.”

North Carolina, averaging 57,375, and N.C. State, averaging 56,820, each rank in the top 50 nationally in average attendance and percentage of capacity.

Coach Tom O’Brien said N.C. State fans “have been spectacular, and they always have been since I’ve been here.”

In 2009, Wake Forest joined Virginia Tech as the only ACC schools to fill 100 percent of their seats. This year, Wake Forest is down slightly at 95.91 percent, with an average of 30,212.

___

AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary and Aaron Beard in North Carolina; Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla.; Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C.; and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

 

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