Attention, BYU fans, the basketball season has begun.

Just thought you'd like to know. Judging from all the empty seats in Provo these days, it seems fairly certain that you're not aware of this. Hope you're not still showing up at Cougar Stadium on Saturdays, because the games have been moved to the Marriott Center - the big building a few blocks east of the stadium, square, red brick, looks like a library.Can't miss it.

You remember basketball, don't you? An orange ball, oh, about this big, a hoop, a lot of tall people running around in baggy shorts. Yeah, the sport Danny Ainge played. That's the one.

Well, the season is under way. No kidding, they've already had four home games, which apparently is news to a lot of people in Provo. Only about 10,000 fans have been showing up for the games. They'd die for 10,000 fans on a bad night in Logan or Ogden, but not in Provo. That leaves about 12,700 empty seats.

In other words, there is room enough for everyone to recline across several seats, like they would on their living room couch. The Marriott Center probably will be less than half full again tonight when BYU plays Northeast Louisiana in Provo.

So bring a pillow and come to the game.

The really strange thing is that about 15,500 fans bought season basketball tickets before the season began - but a lot of them aren't coming to the games. The official (read: paid) attendance this season has been about 17,000 per game, but about 7,000 of those fans stay home.

Go figure. Most schools have trouble SELLING tickets; BYU has trouble getting fans to USE tickets.

Question: Why would anyone buy tickets and then not use them?

Here are some possible excuses: a. Too cold outside; b. It was Mutual night; c. Never heard of the opponent; d. Went Christmas shopping with my wife instead (but wish I hadn't); e. Studied at the library; f. Didn't need the money; g. Waiting for the WAC season.

The answer is probably all of the above, except e.

The Cougars are concerned about all the empty seats. They already have your money in the bank, thank you very much, but they'd also like your fanny in a seat.

"We'd love to have people in stands cheering the team on," says assistant athletic director Val Hale. "That's what the homecourt advantage is about. I'm sure it's disappointing to players and coaches to walk out of the tunnel and see all the no-shows."

The Cougars are taking action. They're calling in the National Guard to bring the missing fans to the Marriott Center at gun point.

Not really. This would only be a last resort. First, the Cougars are cutting in half the number of home games that will be televised this season, to four.

"We want to make it so season ticket holders have an advantage over those who don't," says Hale. "We've had seasons when all our games were on live TV."

BYU also plans a promotional campaign urging ticket holders to give their tickets away if they can't use them for a particular game.

That's assuming they can find a game anyone wants to go to. The Cougars have not had what you'd call a blockbluster lineup of home opponents for the preseason: Nevada-Reno, Mississippi State, Southern Utah, Northwestern State and Northeast Louisiana. The Cougar Classic consisted of three teams from the witness protection program. Nobody ever heard of them.

Even you might prefer Christmas shopping to watching Northeast Louisiana.

Weak home preseason schedules are a national trend, like low-riding shorts. The only time anyone plays a name opponent is in a tournament, preferably one near a beach. They're laying low until conference play. Maybe the fans are doing the same thing.

No-shows have been on the rise during the last two years, especially during the preseason, but this year even season ticket sales declined, by more than 1,000. Many of the no-shows are students. They bought about 6,500 season ticket packages, but many of them don't pick up the tickets until January.

"We probably have 2,500 student season packets that have been purchased that are waiting to be picked up," says ticket manager David Miles.

Maybe apathy is setting in. Season ticket sales also dropped in football, from about 65,000 to 60,000 - the lowest since Cougar Stadium was expanded in 1983 - and there were plenty of no-shows to boot. But at least in that case fans were probably responding to the 6-6 season of 1993. It's harder to explain the decline in basketball ticket sales and no-shows for a team that returns everybody from a 22-10 team and so far has beaten three nationally ranked teams.

Whatever the reason, BYU - the only show in town - has been a tougher act to sell lately.

Says Miles, "It's something we haven't seen around here for a while."