It’s quite simple, really. There’s an attendance requirement for all D-1 schools to meet if they wish to stay in college football’s top division.
To maintain FBS status, a school must average 15,000 in paid or actual attendance a game at least once every two seasons.
The 2010 regular season attendance figures are out. Here’s how one D-1 conference performed:
The MAC had tremendous trouble getting fans to the game. Seven of the bottom 10 teams in attendance were from the MAC and none of those teams (Eastern Michigan, Miami University, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Akron and Ball State) drew more than 16,000 fans per game. Ball State had the worst attendance among FBS schools at 8,947 fans per game.
If you look at the 2009 numbers, you’ll see that the MAC’s attendance figures in that year were just as dreadful. The average attendance for the conference was 15,317. Ball State’s attendance that season was 10,888 (that wasn’t the worst – Eastern Michigan’s 5,016 was the lowest in all of D-1). Ball State, then, is far short of the minimum attendance requirement the NCAA sets for D-1 eligibility. What’s the likelihood that the school will be dropped from D-1?
The fact is that there are too many schools playing D-1 football. They don’t draw; they don’t get much TV money. They don’t generate much revenue (including direct institutional support) in the context of their expenses. In fact, the MAC as a whole suffered a net operating loss in football in the 2008 season.
The BCS/playoff debate masks this underlying problem, or calls it one of fairness. The issue is whether D-1 football should be structured to provide financial support to money-losing conferences, or whether it should require its member institutions to stand on firmer financial footing by eliminating those which are unable to meet fairly low performance standards. I think the latter approach makes more sense, as it makes the top tier more competitive and alleviates the financial pressure on those schools which are unable to perform in an economically viable way.
Further, this study makes it clear that financial demographics don’t favor most mid-majors.
My guess is that the NCAA doesn’t see things that way, though. Which is one reason you’ll continue to see too many bowl games and too many teams eligible to play in bowl games.
At least the D-1 folks are taking steps to close the barn door, though.
Pricier neighborhood: The Division I Legislative Council approved new conditions for joining the highest-profile division, including a far steeper application fee expected to range from $900,000 to $1.3 million. Reclassifying schools now pay $15,000. The action, designed to stem the division’s rapid growth, also requires a standing invitation from a D-I conference.
As much interest as there’s been for lower level schools to move up to D-1 in football, imagine what it would be like in the context of an NCAA-sanctioned, extended playoff-format postseason. (Hint: there are currently 343 schools eligible for March Madness.)