Utah State University was one of three Western Athletic Conference institutions to receive a letter of notice from the NCAA for not meeting the required minimum of 15,000 fans for football games as mandated by the collegiate sports governing body, and if the Aggies miss the mark again in 2006, they could face sanctions.

"We need to make it this year or we will, as Karl (Benson, WAC Commissioner) said, face postseason (penalties)," Utah State athletic director Randy Spetman said.

Utah State, San Jose State, New Mexico State and 10 other Division I institutions received the letter.

In 2004, the NCAA said: "Institutions must meet the requirements to remain a Division I-A institution in the sport of football. If a college or university does not meet the requirements in a given year, it will receive a notice letter. If it does not meet the standards again at any time during a 10-year period, the institution will be placed in restricted status and not be eligible for postseason competition in football."

Per NCAA bylaws, should any team miss the mark three times in a 10-year period, it could lose its Division I-A status in football only.

Eastern Michigan drew the fewest fans, averaging 5,219 per game. It was behind Kent State (6,658); Buffalo (8,914); Rice (10,072); Akron (10,893) and Utah State (10,896).

San Jose State averaged 12,506 and New Mexico State 12,557. Others receiving letters were Temple (12,735), Ball State (12,953), Tulane (14,242), Louisiana Monroe (14,617) and Bowling Green (14,929).

Spetman, who saw the attendance number drop by nearly 9,000 from 2005, doesn't anticipate missing the number again.

"We have a plan to ensure that it doesn't happen through marketing and selling tickets," Spetman said. "We've let our fans know and our alumni know we need to be comfortable in meeting our 15,000 average. I am reasonably comfortable because we have Utah at our place and we'll sell that out so it gives us a buffer in case we get a big snowstorm for the last New Mexico State game."

The Aggies averaged 10,896 fans last year in five home dates, which ranked 112th of 117 teams. They originally had a six-game schedules, but the season opener with Nicholls State was canceled due to Hurricane Katrina.

Spetman said filling Romney Stadium comes down to one element — winning.

"If we're winning, we'll have great crowds," he said.

Last year, the Aggies finished 3-8 and two of the three wins came at home over UNLV and San Jose State.

The Aggies open the home slate Sept. 16 with Utah. Currently, the Aggies have around 3,000 season-ticket holders.

"Characteristic of my two years here, ticket sales lag until it gets closer to football," Spetman said. "It's hard to get people to think about football now or earlier when we started our campaign. I'm optimistic that our season ticket sales will still go up."

In their first three home games last year with UNLV, San Jose State and Boise State, the Aggies drew more than 12,000 per game, with the biggest crowd of 12,922 against Boise. In the final two home games of the year, the Aggies drew 9,457 for Louisiana Tech and 7,153 for Nevada.

Utah State will make a bigger push to connect with the student body and hope to draw 6,000 students to each game, Spetman said.

The athletic department has various ticket packages and programs available for every age group and what Spetman feels are considerable prices.

"I don't think we've overpriced them. We don't want to give our product away and we also have to make our budget," he said. "We have some (ticket packages) we will release here — we're just putting the final touches on it — for some different single-game marketing ideas."

Along with Utah, the Aggies host Idaho (Sept. 30); Fresno State (Oct. 7); Hawaii (Nov. 4) and New Mexico State (Nov. 25).

E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com