When it comes to student attendance, Chris Beard is slowly but surely changing Texas basketball culture

Christina Huang, Sports Desk Editor

When men’s basketball head coach Chris Beard arrived in Austin last April, he made it clear he wanted students to be engaged in Texas basketball. 

As the Longhorns enter the last full month of the regular season, it seems that Beard’s efforts are paying off.

Saturday night’s basketball game against No. 18 Tennessee featured the largest home crowd at a Texas men’s basketball game since 2016. The game was officially sold out, with students turned away at the door due to a lack of space in the student section. 

Finance senior Spencer Van Gelder was one of the students denied entry. Saturday’s game was the first time that he was turned away from the Frank Erwin Center. 

“We went to the student section entrance,” Van Gelder said. “At that gate, they told us that they weren’t letting any more students in.” 

For Texas, a full student section is almost unheard of. The last time a men’s basketball game sold out was in 2016, when Texas hosted No. 1 Kansas. 

After Saturday’s 52-51 win over Tennessee, Beard thanked the fans that sold out the Drum for affecting the outcome of the game. 

“Today’s crowd was the best in college basketball,” Beard said. “There might have been one as good, but there wasn’t one better and they helped us win the game.” 

Beard has gone out of his way to incentivize students to show up to games and build a home-court advantage. The head coach visited multiple fraternity houses in the preseason,  hosted a party at the UT tower for the student body in November and hosted an event on campus called “Coach Beard and Coach Beard,” interviewing actor Brendan Hunt from the popular TV show Ted Lasso. 

The program also continues to provide freebies for students that show up to games. Free breakfast tacos were given out to the first 500 students that showed up to the Jan. 22 game against Oklahoma State, which had 13,203 people in attendance. The Erwin Center’s total capacity is 16,540. 

Beard is slowly but surely building up a basketball culture at Texas that aims to compare to blue blood programs like Kansas and Kentucky. He and his team have already experienced the environment of a “basketball school” — loud and sold-out student sections. 

Texas’ game against Gonzaga was a “tent city” game for the Bulldogs with students camping out days in advance of the game to secure their seats inside the arena. 

The Longhorns will face another similar scene on Tuesday, as Texas Tech students started camping outside the United Supermarkets Arena on Saturday night, three days before the Longhorns are scheduled to travel to Lubbock for Beard’s highly anticipated return to the school that he left in April. The former Texas Tech coach is well aware of the rowdy environment at his old school. 

“This isn’t about me,” Beard said about his return. “This is about Texas basketball 2021-2022, almost halfway through the Big 12 race.” 

But culture can be difficult to change. 

Indiana Daily Student sports reporter Patrick Felts said in his experience at Indiana, the success of the team is the biggest decider of turnout. Indiana basketball is one of the most historic programs in the nation with a long history of high student engagement due to the team’s success. 

“I think the best way to ensure long-term student engagement at games is to win,” Felts said. “Winning is the best medicine for everything in sports.”