Seth Emerson takes Greg McGarity through a lengthy interview, the most interesting part of which comes at the end. McGarity begins with a response to a question about attendance trends in college football.
You can look at programs now, and very successful programs can’t fill their basketball arenas, football stadiums. So it’s up to us to make sure that we’re being as creative as possible to give that person a reason to come to the game. I think our use of the scoreboard, of the video board in the stadium this year was exceptional. The replays, the clarity of the board. Our ability to look into other games. Little things like our ‘stadium defender’ (commercial), the little spoof we did. You can only see that in Sanford Stadium. So we’ve got to think of things you can only see at Sanford Stadium that you can’t at home.
Because the thought is, If I’m home and I’ve got my (remote control) out I can toggle between Game A and Game B, and if I wanna cut it off I can cut it off. Well, we’re thinking that way in the stadium, to where if I can do it at home, hopefully I can do some of that stuff at the stadium. … That’s our charge next year: What more creative ideas can we generate? And have a little fun. Can we do a better job in certain areas of how we present the game? Sure we can. Can we do a better job with concessions? Maybe we have more hawkers in the stands. Instead of Greg and Seth having to go up in line and wait 30 minutes for a Coke, let’s bring the Coke to you, and maybe that’s doubling the amount of hawkers you have in the stadium. Those are all things we think about daily. …Locally we have to do that.
It’s nice that he’s thinking about it, but this is just nibbling at the edges stuff, at best. How many Georgia fans get up on a Saturday and say, “let’s go to the game so we can watch the new stadium defender ad”?
To Emerson’s credit, he takes the conversation where it really needs to go – quality of scheduling.
Q: Would it also impact non-conference scheduling?
McGarity: I tell you what, if you think about our schedule (in 2011) if we had not played Boise State. We would have been playing in Louisville this year, sandwiched in between two SEC games. Now we saw what Charlie (Strong) and the job they did. That would have been another game where you have to be at peak performance, you can’t just think you’ve got that one in your back pocket. But I think the strength of schedule, that’s something we have to study. We don’t know what that means. That’s why we haven’t done any scheduling in the last year, moving forward, because we want to see what is the strength of schedule. [Emphasis added.]
I can only think of one thing McGarity could be waiting on, and so could Emerson.
Q: Are you also waiting to make sure the SEC schedule stays at eight games?
McGarity: Yeah, yeah. We are going to discuss what a nine-game model looks like, at least have that discussion. But you want to be sure that you’re not over-scheduling and making it more difficult to be in the BCS games, by adding an SEC game.
Q: Will you also discuss that in Destin, at the SEC meetings?
McGarity: It’ll be a topic, yeah. We’ll cover some of that in Nashville at the next A.D. meeting. But yes that nine-game schedule we’re going to take a look at it, to see what it looks like. But no commitment, either way.
They know. These guys know. The fans want less cupcakes in their scheduling diet. One less Sun Belt opponent is going to do more for attendance enthusiasm than ten stadium defender ads would. The networks want more conference product (and if the SEC is the best conference in the country, why wouldn’t they?). And a nine-game conference schedule is far less unwieldy in a fourteen-team conference than what they’re struggling with now.
What’s holding them back are the same two things: the fear of revenue reduction from a loss of a seventh home game every other season and the potentially negative impact of tougher regular season scheduling on the SEC’s postseason chances. My bet is they’ve already heard enough from the networks to conclude that a nine-game conference schedule will result in nothing worse than a revenue wash. (McGarity’s silence on that is a pretty good indication that it’s not really a concern to the ADs.) So what’s left is waiting to hear how this whole selection committee thing for the new playoffs gets structured. Bottom line: if the ADs feel like there’s a reasonable chance two conference teams playing a nine-game SEC schedule can make the four-team playoff field, they’ll make the move.
If not? Well, expect more stadium defender ads and unstable conference scheduling in the short term. And don’t be surprised when Mike Slive decides that an eight-team playoff is the direction where college football really needs to be heading. Because these guys know.