Has Oregon football finally reached the point where home fans won't show up to watch their Ducks feast on cupcakes?
Say it ain't so.
Oregon has the fourth-longest home sellout streak in the nation, with Autzen Stadium having been packed for 82 straight games, typically with a large number of standing-room-only fans gathered around the concourse. According to the Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, you have to go back to September 18, 1999 to find the last time Autzen wasn't at capacity.
But now, thanks to a few special circumstances, the Ducks' impressive streak could be coming to an end.
Oregon is set to play Arkansas State in its season opener on September 1, and with two weeks left before game day, the Register-Guard reported that around 5,000 tickets still hadn't been sold for the game.
A couple of things, actually.
First, Arkansas State isn't even using 500 of the 2,000 available seats in Autzen's visiting section.
Second, UO students haven't yet arrived on campus, meaning an additional 3,000 seats are available, according to the newspaper report.
Third, ticket prices have increased. Again. And many fans -- including several who I know personally -- have decided enough is enough on the added costs. They feel they're being priced out of seats they've held for years, and they're not going to shell out for subpar opponents.
Which brings us to the fourth factor -- it's Arkansas State, in early September, when, presumably, many Duck fans have better things to do than watch a yawner of a blowout.
Those first three factors are understandable. The last one represents a bit of a change from the norm in Eugene.
Over the years, Oregon fans have packed Autzen Stadium through blowouts no matter the weather -- as PA announcer Don Essig says, "It never rains in Autzen Stadium" -- but could it be that fans just aren't as excited to see the Ducks' offense roll over unworthy opponents? Could it be that success has created expectations that have altered a bit of the charm that was part of the Autzen experience during that sold-out streak (even in 40-50-point September blowouts, the stands would be nearly full in the fourth quarter)?
Possibly. But don't blame the Ducks for scheduling a weak opponent. Oregon wasn't supposed to be playing Arkansas State in its 2012 opener. The Ducks were supposed to open at Autzen against Kansas State, but the Wildcats pulled out of the home-and-home arrangement in the fall of 2010. No, K-State isn't quite LSU, Oregon's opening-week foe in 2011, but it would have been a huge step up from the Red Wolves.
As it is, asking Duck fans to pick up the slack on those extra 4,500 tickets -- 3,000 from the student section, 1,500-ish from the visitor's section -- might be a tall order for a lowly opponent, particularly considering the reality of increased ticket costs.
There was a time -- and it really wasn't all that long ago -- when fans didn't sell out Autzen Stadium because the Ducks weren't always worthy.
Are we now at the opposite end of that spectrum, where fans don't show up for games when they deem the opponents unworthy?
Adam Sparks is a University of Oregon alum who has written about Ducks sports as a freelancer since 2009.