Kerns settles in

Appalachian State men’s basketball coach Dustin Kerns, right, meets the media with Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillin, left.

BOONE — Appalachian State’s football team led the Sun Belt Conference in home-game attendance in 2018.

The Mountaineers drew an average of 25,787 fans to Kidd Brewer Stadium last season. Of course, Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillin would like to see that number rise, but being on top of the attendance list is better than being on the bottom.

That’s not the case for Appalachian State’s men’s basketball program. Gillin addressed the need to improve attendance for men’s basketball when he met with local media to discuss the state of the Appalachian State athletic department.

The Mountaineers averaged 1,026 fans in 14 home games at the Holmes Center during the 2018-19 season. That put Appalachian State, which finished 11-21 overall last season, dead last in the Sun Belt Conference, right behind Coastal Carolina, which averaged 1,216 fans per game.

Louisiana led the Sun Belt in home attendance by averaging 3,939 fans per game. Louisiana-Monroe was second with 3,340 per game, while Texas State was third with 3,067.

“To be relevant in the world of FBS athletics, you’ve got to be relevant in basketball,” Gillin said. “You’ve got to at least be average in basketball. We’re going to give it all we’ve got to figure that out. That will start this year in earnest, but we’ve got the right coach. I know that for sure and the rest will come. “

Gillin said new head coach Dustin Kerns has been working hard to connect with the community and with new recruits. Kerns was hired to replace Jim Fox, who was fired after five years in charge of the program.

Gillin was optimistic about changing the culture of the men’s basketball program with the public.

“I feel an uptick in interest,” Gillin said. “I think Dustin has done an amazing job getting out into the community and getting people excited and recruiting on a high level. We’ve gone flat over the last five years and I see a peak in interest already. I think our ticket sales will be up. I think Dustin will bring it back. We will be more focused on the students and we’ll continue to grow that base.”

Bringing regional teams to the Holmes Center is one way Gillin is trying to boost attendance. Appalachian State hosts Division I opponents East Carolina on Nov. 12, Charlotte on Nov. 21 and plays at former Southern Conference rival UNC Greensboro Nov. 18 in the UNC Greensboro Tournament. That tournament also pits the Pioneers against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 15 and against Montana State Nov. 16. App State travels to Johnson City, Tenn., to face East Tennessee State on Nov. 26.

The Mountaineers also host Division II Ferrum in the first home game of the season Nov. 7 and host St. Andrews Dec. 3.

Gillin said scheduling basketball games can be tricky since Appalachian State plays 20 Sun Belt Conference games. Appalachian State will also continue to pursue games against power conference teams that raise revenue with financial guarantees.

“We tell Dustin he has to go out and play some games where we get paid, which goes back to the fundraising question,” Gillin said. “Unfortunately, we have to go play opportunity games where somebody’s going to pay us to go play. Then you do a couple of those and you’ve got 20 league games, there aren’t a lot left.”

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