There is some good news for the University of Minnesota, which is trying to find ways to fill the empty seats in the student section at TCF Bank Stadium.

In the continuing struggle to address student apathy toward football — and with the Gophers' season starting with a home game Thursday — the school announced it has sold 1,647 football-only student season tickets so far, a modest increase from the 919 sold at this point a year ago. The total still is down from the 1,787 sold at this point two years ago, and the 2,754 sold by late August 2011. The school, however, has had some additional success by pairing student season tickets for football with those for men's basketball and hockey — bringing the overall total for student football season tickets as of Monday to 5,043 and counting.

Overall season- tickets sales for football also are slightly improved: So far 33,385 have been sold, compared with 32,383 at this time a year ago. School officials reported that, in just a three-day period ending Monday, they had sold 357 more season tickets.

With more than 30,000 undergraduate students expected on campus this fall, school officials have conceded that it remains a challenge to get more students to go to games at the school's five-year-old, on-campus stadium and that large rows of empty student-section seats have become an all-too-familiar sight.

Student season tickets for football remain a relative bargain, costing $90 for seven home games. A student season-ticket package that includes football and men's basketball and hockey costs $258.

The problem for school officials can be found in the attitude of Grady Bell, a junior from White Bear Lake majoring in chemistry.

"I'd love to go, but I have a lot of commitments just as any other college student," he said. "To be honest, we're not that good of a team."

But "my reservations about going to the games has diminished somewhat," Bell added. "More and more people are saying, 'Hey, did you hear how the Gophers did?' "

There also was some hope with Evan Carlson, who said his girlfriend had just bought student season football tickets.

"I'll be watching a few of the games," said Carlson, who sat on campus last week and wore a maroon T-shirt with M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A in large gold letters. Up until now, said Carlson, his attitude has been that "I'll watch it if it's on, but I'm not going out of my way to see it."

Kevin Nance, a junior and anthropology major at the school this fall, said however he never has warmed to college football.

"On campus, it just seems [like] an excuse to get really drunk," he said.

School officials have tried to address the student-ticket problem, announcing that beginning this year unsold student season tickets would be more readily available to the general public. The new policy, according to the school, still would guarantee that a minimum of 6,000 student tickets would be available for each home game at the 50,000-seat stadium.

The sales success is most evident in the multisports ticket packages available to students.

A school spokesman said last week that one Maroon Membership season-ticket package, which includes full football season tickets and some men's hockey tickets, already had been bought by 904 students so far this year, compared with 422 a year ago when it was first introduced.

As of last week the school said 4,565 students had so far this year chosen the football-only season package or one of five other student season-ticket packages — most combining football tickets with those for either men's basketball or men's hockey. Barely 3,000 students had done so at the same point a year ago, the school said.

The student football season-ticket sales have increased by almost 500 in the past week.