There's a 10-letter word that starts with the letter A, and everywhere in college athletics that you look, it stirs up discussion and, in some cases, controversy.
That word, readers, is attendance. And it's waning nationwide.
Really, it's not just a college athletics thing. Pro sports have issues attracting people to games, for various reasons. Some people find certain sports to be on the more boring or less exciting end of the spectrum. Others love sports but would rather watch them from the convenience of their own home, where they can set up multiple big-screen HD televisions and don't have to get in line to go to the bathroom.
Others might genuinely want to go to more games, but prices are just too high. Especially for families, the cost to go to a game can creep into the hundreds when you consider the tickets, parking, concessions and merchandise.
Bringing the topic back to McNeese, what can McNeese do to fill Cowboy Stadium like it did in the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s, when "The Hole" was regularly packed?
It's so simple that it could almost be seen as cliché. But Al Davis famously said it: "Just win, baby!"
I've racked my brain trying to think of what would motivate McNeese fans to attend games the way they used to.
There are people — a talkative minority in my opinion — who don't like anything the athletic department does in an effort to increase attendance.
The school moved some kickoff times up to 4 p.m. and the complainers countered with talk about tradition being ruined. If McNeese kept every game with a prime-time start, others would complain that the school is not trying to do anything to address the attendance issue. It's a no-win situation.
So all the Cowboys can do is win. Obviously, that's much easier said than done. The 2019 schedule will be a beast from opening day.
Oddly enough, we will likely see a great crowd on Aug. 31, and I've said it before, Cowboy Stadium will sell out or come close no matter how many McNeese fans are in the stands. If Southern University can sell its allotment of seats in the 74,000-seat Superdome, doing something similar in the 17,000-seat Cowboy Stadium should be easy.
If the Cowboys start the season with four or five wins in its first six games, believe me, they are the real deal. They'll have earned your attendance.
When it comes to the college football team I support and have followed since I was a kid, the wins and losses don't stop me from going to games. The fact that I don't live in the area anymore is what prohibits me from going. If you're a hardcore McNeese fan, Cowboy to your core, you should be at the games regardless of which side you sit on, what time the game starts, whether you have to bring in clear bags or not.
With all that said, I can only hope that winning and playing meaningful games in late October and throughout November will be enough to pack the stadium. I look at last year's game against Central Arkansas as proof that success doesn't always equal great attendance numbers. But I won't get into that whole thing again.
What if winning can't bring that consistent attendance back? Then there's a very good chance that it has nothing to do with winning. That may just be what McNeese football is now. A team that, regardless of on-field success, will have good but not great attendance.
And if that is the case? I guess that just has to be accepted. But then we have to have a discussion that it's not the same McNeese football program that it used to be.
It's funny, because if you look around Football Championship Subdivision football, there are teams that would give anything to have attendance hovering around the 10,000 mark. But, at McNeese, that is cause for concern.
If you want to be the standard for the Southland Conference and throughout the country, you have to prove it and show up at games.
Otherwise, it will be up to Gilbert and his team to keep winning and force you to show up.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org