The Carrier Dome opened for college basketball on November 29, 1980, and saw Syracuse easily beat Columbia 108-81 before a little over 15,000 fans. The first time Syracuse and Georgetown met in the Carrier Dome was February 9, 1981, before 17,092 fans. Syracuse would win that game 66-64 on a Marty Headd jumper in the waning moments of the game. Seventeen thousand fans was a lot of fans. Most arenas only seated a few thousand. When Syracuse had played Georgetown in Washington D.C. earlier that year, roughly 4700 fans were at that game.
The first Carrier Dome crowd to reach the magical 30,000 mark was for the Georgetown/Syracuse game on January 10, 1983. The Hoyas would win that game 97-92 in front of 31,327 fans. The Syracuse starting five were Gene Waldron, Erich Santifer, Andre Hawkins, Leo Rautins and Tony Bruin. Rautins would register a triple double in that loss.
Playing in front of the 30k crowds was exciting for the fans, but not a significant home court advantage in the early going. Syracuse would be only be 7-7 in the first 14 games in front of 30k crowds, though one must temper that by the fact that those games were against some of the best collegiate teams ever (the Ewing era Hoyas, Mullin era Redmen, and Jordan era Tar Heels).
The frenzy of fans participating in 30k crowds kept growing in the 80s, and coupled with the lack of televised games (we take it for granted that all games are televised these days) and the rise to national dominance of the Syracuse basketball program, helped generate the crowds. The 1989-1990 season saw games exceed the 30k mark level.
NCAA probation, followed by a drop off in dominance by the Syracuse basketball program, increased television coverage, and increased ticket prices, reduced the frequency of the big crowds in the 1990s. Five seasons saw no crowds hit the magical barrier, and from 1996-2002 only three times did the dome hit the mark.
Since 2002-2003, the dome has seen one or two games a year hit the 30k mark, a trend that I imagine will continue. Fans in the 30k+ range have a poor view of the court because of distance, and with all the television coverage, only the concept of the ‘event’ will draw crowds that large.
It would be of no surprise to any Syracuse fan to know that Georgetown has been the most common opponent in the 30k games, with the Hoyas and Orange meeting 16 times, Syracuse winning ten of them. St. John’s and Pittsburgh are next on the list, with seven games a piece, followed by UConn, Villanova and Notre Dame at six.
I have put together a complete listing of all 68 games, along with breakdowns by opponent, and by month, and by season.
Stephen Thompson and Derrick Coleman have participated in 22 games each, by far the most of any player. Sherman Douglas was fortunate to play in 19. Pearl Washington, who played a big part in generating excitement in the early days of the Dome, played in 12 of them.
A random sampling of other notable Syracuse players shows the following: Gerry McNamara 9 times, Carmelo Anthony 3, Lawrence Moten 9, John Wallace 5, Todd Burgan 3, Jason Hart 2, Etan Thomas 2, Preston Shumpert 2, and Jonny Flynn 3. In the family Rautins competition, Leo played in 3, while Andy has played in 7.
Not all Big East teams have yet to experience a 30k crowd. Most notable would be West Virginia. The other teams on that list would be Marquette, South Florida, Cincinnati, and DePaul. However, if they hang around the Big East long enough, they eventually will. Just ask Rutgers, who saw 33,071 fans, then an NCAA record, chant ‘one more year’ for Carmelo Anthony in his last home game.