CLEMSON, S.C. -- Remember a few years ago when Clemson fans avoided Death Valley and Littlejohn Coliseum in record numbers?
Now, Tigers fans are setting records for support, donating more than $9.1 million to the school's athletic booster club. The money goes to athletic scholarships for Clemson's nearly 400 athletes.
"Clemson fans have always given, but this definitely points to a resurgence of where we want to be," IPTAY executive director George Bennett said.
With all the figuring finished, Bennett says 19,451 members contributed $9.14 million. The previous mark was last year's $8.69 million, "but that included a gift of $1 million," Bennett said. "We didn't have that this year."
Membership was up from 18,828 in 1997-98. It costs at least $100 to join IPTAY, which got its name from "I Pay Ten A Year," the cost in dollars to belong in 1934.
It sure doesn't seem so long ago, though, that Clemson fans were grousing about what they saw as their fading football and men's basketball teams.
In 1993, Death Valley was perhaps its quietest in more than a decade with an average of 66,845, down almost 10,000 per contest from 1992.
The basketball team averaged 7,205 fans in 1993-94, including 3,876 for an NIT game with Southern Mississippi that was coach Cliff Ellis' final home contest.
Things have jumped dramatically for both sports since then. The football team has averaged around 70,000 in coach Tommy West's first four seasons, which have included three bowl trips. While the basketball team, led by departed coach Rick Barnes, sold out season tickets and averaged just less than Littlejohn's capacity of 11,200 for 14 home games this past season.
"We feel good about it, everything is up and everyone's done a phenomenal job," Clemson athletic director Bobby Robinson. "This kind of effort translates into tickets down the road."
Is everything perfect? No, says Bennett.
It would have been nice to keep Barnes as basketball coach instead of watching him leave for Texas. And although Clemson is among a dozen or so football teams with three straight bowl trips, "everybody wishes we would have won," Bennett said.
The Tigers lost the Gator Bowl three seasons ago and the Peach Bowl each of the past two years.
But both West and new basketball coach Larry Shyatt fired up Clemson rooters at the annual tour of regional IPTAY booster clubs, Bennett said.
"Members have told me they have lot of confidence in what our coaches are doing and just feel real good about the programs," he said.
IPTAY President John Tice of Rocky Face, Ga., said he was proud of how Clemson's athletic department has polished itself up the past two years. He said grades are up -- the football and men's basketball teams had their second-best semesters in 14 years, with GPAs of 2.31 and 2.42, respectively this spring. "That speaks volumes for the job people are doing," Tice said.
Endowments, which are donations of at least $100,000, also are up. IPTAY more than doubled that level from 23 a year ago to 56 this season.
Robinson and Bennett said efforts to recruit more minority IPTAY members are increasing, but it will take time to make significant inroads. A report in May said IPTAY had no more than 30 minority members.
"We're taking steps," Bennett said. "There's a lot of good things happening here."
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