Colorado safety Parker Orms plays his last home game Saturday, and he no doubt will look in the stands to see his family, as he does every week. Unfortunately, they haven't been hard to find this year.
CU's average home attendance (38,754) is its lowest since 1985, the year coach Bill McCartney turned around the Buffaloes in his fourth year on the job.
Orms grew up in Wheat Ridge as a lifetime Buffs fan. As he leaves, he wishes there were more of them. "I feel like it's my fault," Orms said. "It's our fault the fans aren't out there."
Unless the Buffs (4-6, 1-6 Pac-12) upset 23rd-ranked Southern California on Saturday, then win at Utah the following week, they will extend their school-record string of losing seasons to eight.
Yet in this state, a CU ticket seems like first row at the Oscars compared with Air Force and Colorado State. Air Force's average of 33,111 heading into Thursday night's home finale against UNLV was buoyed by the 44,672 who attended the Notre Dame game.
CSU, one win from its first bowl game in five years, is averaging only 19,210 fans per home game, its lowest total since 1992.
The effects of the empty seats are devastating financially and aesthetically. CU is trying to raise money for a $170 million facilities upgrade, CSU is trying to raise funds for a new on-campus stadium, and Air Force wants to preserve its national image.
The main reason for the sparse crowds is clear.
"The fact of the matter is we haven't had a winning regular season at Colorado State in almost 10 years," said CSU athletic director Jack Graham. "So the level of interest, and just habits, of showing up at football games at Hughes Stadium has been severely compromised because of that performance."
At CU, a core fan base is surrounded by periphery fans who will watch a good product but can provide a season's worth of programming on The Outdoor Channel when there isn't one. Three head coaches in four years created a loss of interest that hasn't disappeared despite the Buffs' progress under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre.
CU has drawn fewer than 40,000 fans at Folsom Field four times this year for the first time since 1985. Only six teams in the five major BCS conferences are averaging fewer fans than CU.
"We have to engage our community in a better way to get them supportive of what we're doing," said new CU athletic director Rick George. "We have performed better on the field (this year), and hopefully that will translate into better ticket sales moving forward."
It hasn't helped CU that September's epic flood forced the cancellation of a home game against Fresno State, a top-25 team. CU rescheduled against an FCS team, Charleston Southern.
At season's end, George will survey CU fans who attend as well as those who no longer attend — similar to what he did as CEO and president of the Texas Rangers over the last three years.
This month, George hired former CU wide receiver Lance Carl as an associate athletic director in charge of business development, community partnerships and coordinator of nongame-day events. In other words, he's the liaison between the athletic department and a Boulder community that often turns its Ray-Bans away from athletics.
"We've always had a core," said Carl, who has lived in the Boulder area since he caught passes for the Buffs in 1986 and 1987. "Our challenge is to find a new core of fans. One of our goals is to help people connect with CU, not just the athletics but the university."
George said he wants to see the Buffs average at least 40,000 fans per home game next year, but his department's budget during this fiscal year hasn't been hurt by the attendance. CU budgeted lower, knowing its football team was coming off a 1-11 season.
"If we budgeted for 48,000," George said, "we'd really have some issues, but we didn't."
Air Force's home attendance has been hurt by the Falcons' worst season in decades, as well as some odd start times — from 10 a.m. for the Army game to 8:15 p.m. for Wyoming. Those kickoff times are made for TV, but hurt the ability to draw fans.
"It gives our team an opportunity to be seen on a national level, but it's tough to get fans in the stands at 7:30 on a Thursday night," said Derm Coll, the CEO of the Air Force Athletic Corporation. "I don't know if the television exposure compensates, but what's going on is a national trend."
A survey by The Birmingham News at midseason showed college football attendance nationwide is down 3 percent from the same period in 2012. Rising ticket costs was given as one reason, but so is the plethora of games on TV. Fans can almost get a better fan experience from their couch.
"People love real-time instant replay at their fingertips," said CSU's Graham. "People want to be able to get up and move around. They just don't want to sit in the stands for 3½ hours. As we're thinking how we want to design the new stadium, we're taking all those things into consideration."
For any of the area teams to start growing their fan base, though, they need to starting winning on a regular basis.
Weston Richburg, CSU's star senior center, summed up the attendance dips statewide. "When we make a bowl game," Richburg said, "there is no reason why that shouldn't increase attendance."
Staff writers Tom Kensler and Irv Moss contributed to this report.