I WENT to Game 1 of the Cesafi basketball finals between the University of the Visayas and the University of San Carlos expecting to have some difficulties going into the Cebu Coliseum.

The last time USC met UV in the finals a few years ago, there was a sizeable crowd and getting into the media row at the Cebu Coliseum was difficult. It wasn’t the case last Sunday in Game 1 as the Coliseum wasn’t packed.

In Game 3, the crowd was bigger, but not as packed as the previous finals, especially the one featuring arch rivals UV and Southwestern University.

And when I looked around the people in the stands, I think I know why. Majority of the people in the Coliseum were basketball fans in their mid-20s or older; there weren’t that many students in the crowd, students who we expect to form the bulk of the audience, cheering for their teams.

A conversation I’ve had with one fan at half-time can perhaps sum up the kind of fans who watch the finals.

“If it’s UV playing, me and my wife will be here,” he said in Cebuano. “And to make sure I have tickets, I leave P500 at the gate before Game 1.”

Guys like him are what make Cesafi basketball a huge hit. They follow the league and are updated with the latest news.

But to get to the level of the NCAA and UAAP, Cesafi needs more students in the stands. The hakot system could work but that’s just temporary. Look what happened in Game 3. A swarm of UV crowd clad in white in the upper grandstand left the game early, with more than four minutes left and UV staring at a 13-point lead. The non-hakot UV crowd left in the final seconds, when it was obvious UV was going to lose Game 3.

I’m sure there are a lot of basketball fans among the students, the only question now is how to get them into the games.

Lower the ticket prices? Make the schedule for student-fan friendly? But if Cesafi does away with its 5 p.m. tip-off, does that mean it will alienate its core fans? Those non-students who follow the Cebu college scene?

It’s something for the league to consider and I hope it does. I hope those involved in the basketball tournament--coaches, players, officials, media and fans--or representatives of each sector, will meet and ask, “How do we get more fans to our games?”

For sure, when it’s UV and SWU in the finals, such question need not be asked. But for the scores of elimination round games that don’t involve both teams?

Finding a solution benefits everyone--the coaches, players, league officials and media--as more people in the stands mean more interest, more revenue and more readers of Cesafi stories.

It’s too late for this season, but I hope something can be worked out for next season, we have to have more students in the stands. As for the basketball fans, we can rely on them to be present when it matters most.

As for this year’s final series, it all could end today in Game 4 as USC is ahead, 2-1. UV fans, which outnumber USC greatly, all want to see a Game 5, so let’s all see what happens today. Be there!

LITTLE AZKALS. Former Azkals team captain Chieffy Caligdong and Simone Rota, who is with the team, will be at SM City today for the film showing of the Little Azkals documentary, Pangarap Kong World Cup. The film will start at 1 p.m. so if you want to catch the two players and get to see a film about the determination, courage and discipline of a bunch of kids chasing that World Cup dream, be there at SM City.

Don’t miss it.