Knoxville — Even Tennessee, the NCAA's top draw in women's basketball, knows it takes more than seven national titles to put fans in the stands, especially students.
"One of the things we have always heard from students is that they have so much going on. So I said, 'What can we do to entice you?'" said Jimmy Delaney, the Lady Vols marketing director.
The promotion Delaney and coach Pat Summitt came up with? Free tuition.
Delaney said he is unaware of anyone else offering something comparable. "In the realm of women's basketball, we are always trying to be the leader," he said.
The Lady Vols will give away a year's instate tuition (for 2008-2009) to a student who attends at least 10 of 14 home games. The winner will be picked randomly from those eligible, tallied electronically when they swipe their student cards at the gate.
It's a $6,000 value.
"This is a win-win situation!" said Anna York, student body vice president and a student member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. "The students can enjoy our amazing Lady Vols while also having the chance to win free tuition and other prizes."
The other prizes include two tickets and hotel accommodations to the Women's Final Four in Tampa, Fla., assuming the Lady Vols are in it. The winners will fly down with the players.
"Some people are more stoked about traveling with the team than getting free tuition," Delaney said.
Tennessee has ranked No. 1 in home attendance in nine of the past 10 years, according to the NCAA. The Lady Vols averaged 14,678 fans a game during their 2007 championship season. No. 2 Connecticut averaged 10,802.
But filling a 444-seat student section with screaming, cheering, waving Lady Vol faithful, game in and game out, remains the goal in newly remodeled 21,678-seat Thompson-Boling Arena.
"The enthusiasm of our fans, especially the students, brings such an electrifying atmosphere to our games. We hope they fill the seats at every game," Summitt said.
The Lady Vols drew over 2,000 students last season to their game against Duke, but they have a ways to go to reach the intimidating consistency of the Blue Devils' "Cameron Crazies" home crowd.
But so far so good. The Lady Vols' exhibition game against the USA National Team on Nov. 4 drew nearly 500 students and an exhibition against Carson-Newman the following Tuesday — the fifth sporting event on campus in five days — attracted about 200 students.
"We want the base to be 500 kids," Delaney said. "But obviously our goal is 1,000, 2,000, whatever. We want to get as many students in there as we can."