Category Archives: College Football

An AD’s gotta do what an AD’s gotta do. Even when the AD shouldn’t.

Interesting tidbit from David Ching:

However, some attendance increases could generously be described as misleading.

For instance, Akron’s average home attendance improved by 9,232 per game in 2017, but that was hardly the result of enthusiasm over Terry Bowden having led the Zips to a 7-7 record and a spot in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl.

The Akron Beacon Journal in 2015 reported on the school’s practice of buying up thousands of its own tickets every other season to comply with a 2002 NCAA stipulation that all football programs average 15,000 paid or actual attendance over a two-year period in order to remain in Division I.

As a result, Akron’s attendance yo-yos wildly on an annual basis. The Zips’ reported average attendances over the last six seasons: 19,569 (2017), 10,337 (2016), 18,098 (2015), 9,170 (2014), 17,850 (2013) and 9,275 (2012).

They really need to start culling some teams from the D-1 herd.

By the way, if you’re wondering who’s paying for that…

With the university subsidizing the football operations by about $8 million, it’s not good that fans and their much-needed cash are staying away from games.

That has forced the university — already making annual debt payments of $4.3 million on the stadium — to dip deeper into its own pocket to drive up attendance artificially.

College football makes some people do stupid things.  It’s worse when the stupid ones are the administrators.

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

Reading the tea leaves on college football’s declining attendance numbers

One thing I found interesting about this CFN chart is that every SEC team that fired its head coach after the 2017 season saw a significant drop in year-over-year home attendance.

  • 80.  Florida: minus-1131
  • 99.  Texas A&M:  minus-3115
  • 114.  Tennessee:  minus-5189
  • 122.  Arkansas:  minus-6357

Given the surrounding circumstances, Matt Luke (minus-6279) is probably okay for a couple more years, but I’d say Ed Orgeron (minus-2725) better keep an eye on asses in the seats this year.

Now, if you’re an athletic director, it’s a safe assumption to make that an unattractive product on the field means less fans in the stands.  In the short run, a coaching change can’t hurt in that regard (other than the buyout you had to pay) and if you catch lightning in a bottle, so much the better.

It’s also a dodge at concerning yourself with the underlying factors that may also be contributing, though.  That’s an uncomfortable thing to consider, because it likely means looking at one key revenue source as causing a problem with another key revenue source.

But the overall drop that should concern everyone last year — and this one isn’t calculated in the NCAA figures — is the falling student attendance. It happened at Texas, and I assume that will change when Tom Herman’s team plays closer to its recruiting rank, but the Longhorns are not alone here. Stories about difficulty in getting students to attend games at previous levels can be found at many large schools, state and private, across the land.

And that’s the one that scares everyone because, frankly, millennials and their behavior scare the hell out of the rest of us. There are essentially four reasons for this, depending upon one’s viewpoint.

They don’t respect the things we honor. They want to change everything we view as traditional or necessary. They want to take our jobs. They’re cutting the darned cords on their cable.

It’s that fourth one that gets the most attention (especially if, full disclosure, one has a connection to ESPN), but I think this attendance discussion touches upon everything but the jobs component of the above.

How can it be hard to get college kids to go to college football games?

I understand some of the reasons that others have listed in the comments section of one of these NCAA attendance stories.

Tickets are too expensive.

The games take four hours and, given the burden of working one’s way into and out of parking lots, it’s an all-day commitment.

Since everything is done for TV, kickoff times aren’t even set two weeks before the game.

And then there’s the biggest which is the toughest to address.

It’s just easier to watch on your big screens at home.

We have seen a dramatic and important reversal on this front. A half-century ago television, a relative newcomer on the scene, did its best to recreate the game experience of actually being in the stadium. Today it’s incumbent upon teams in every sport to try to recreate the home viewing experience for those actually in the arena.

It’s remarkable how much effort (and how many millions of dollars) get spent in new buildings on things unrelated to actually seeing the game from your seat. It still stuns me to walk around, say, Globe Life Park and see the number of people busy doing something other than watching the game they have chosen to attend.

The college football experience as I mentioned can be a four-hour ordeal. Longer if Big 12 defenses are involved. The number of kids content to put their phones away, grab a seat and watch each team take 95 snaps from center is minuscule.

I don’t think college football is in danger of losing its entire audience in the near future, or even a sizable portion of it. But the battle to get people into a stadium at a lofty ticket price and keep them engaged is ongoing. TV money may drive all sports leagues and conferences, but no one wants to watch a studio sport. We want to feel like we’re part of that passionate stadium experience even when we don’t want to put up with all that comes with that experience.

I’m not sure I agree with everything there — there are plenty of people who will watch the early slate of bowls, which, from a live attendance standpoint, are essentially studio sports — but that last line is a perfect encapsulation of the dilemma athletic directors everywhere face in an era where broadcast partners call most of the shots.  Not only do I think none of them have a real clue about what to do, I don’t think most of them even want to consider the problem.  That’s troublesome, because for every program like Georgia that’s seen its fortunes suddenly explode, there are plenty of others that don’t have a reserve of fan enthusiasm like that to tap into.  If there’s a growing gap in that regard, only TV is equipped to step into the breach, which will only serve to exacerbate the problem.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

The cost of new and improved

I give Greg McElroy a lot of credit for saying this about the college football attendance drop:

“We are paying less and less attention to the schools that are not in contention,” the former Alabama quarterback said. “I would love to know, on a minute-by-minute basis, the comparison between the 10 teams that we discuss as having a chance at the College Football Playoff on this radio program. And, look, it’s not our fault. We go where the callers want to go. Where do we spend the majority of our time? We spend it on 10, maybe 15 teams. Maybe 20. Because it’s a caller-driven show and calls are most likely going to be on teams who are in contention for the College Football Playoff.

“The teams that aren’t, it feels like they don’t matter. It’s not really true, but people aren’t willing to spend their last dollar to go to a game. Ticket prices are expensive, concessions are expensive, and now you get an incredible experience watching it on your television screen. If your team is in contention for the playoff, you feel like you have to go: ‘I’m gonna go, I’ve gotta see them. This could be my only chance to see a national championship team, of course I’m going to go see them.’ So, they spend their last dollar trying to go to those games. Why do you think Bama was top-4 in attendance this year? It has to do with the stadium, sure, but it’s also because Bama is crazy about football. So, I do think if you’re in contention for the College Football Playoff, you’re going to get more attention and people are going to spend more money on you. If you’re not in contention, people would just assume say ‘Hey, I’ll watch ’em on TV. I’ll watch ’em on the SEC Network.’”

This is the price you pay for kissing ESPN’s ring, for taking Mickey’s money.  Because when ESPN decides it is in college football’s interest — meaning it’s in ESPN’s interest — to shift from its traditional regional appeal to a broader, national audience, this is what you get.  The conferences, the joy of college football for college football’s sake is diminished in a reach to attract more fans who are less passionate about the sport.  The result is an emphasis on the playoffs and a de-emphasis on what used to matter to the typical fan of a conference program.

For now, it’s not hitting us because Georgia is in the thick of things.  But McElroy’s making a lot of sense with regard to the bigger picture.  Given that Mickey signs his paycheck, it’s even a little brave on his part.  Not that anybody’s going to do anything about it.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

This is fine.

College football attendance continues to decline.

Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.

The 2017 FBS average of 42,203 fans per game is the lowest since 1997.

I knew those players taking a damned knee during the National Anthem… oh, wait.

How about this, then?  Those liberals just don’t appreciate ‘Murica’s greatness like they used to… um, what’s that you say?

Even the most rabid league in the country saw a dip. In 2017, the SEC experienced its sharpest per-game decline — down an average 2,433 fans — since 1992. That figure led the Power Five in fans lost per game in 2017.

While the SEC led all FBS conferences in average attendance for the 20th consecutive year, its average attendance (75,074) was the lowest since 2005. The SEC has slipped an average of 2,926 fans per game (3.7 percent) since a record 78,630 average in 2015.

Well, dayum, Johnny, what’s the problem?

College sports has long been at odds with how to manage the time/value relationship. In other words, how to make attendance at a live event more valuable than the alternatives, which range from remaining at a tailgate outside the venue to viewing on a smartphone while on the go to watching in the comfort of one’s living room.

“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director and former Sun Belt commissioner. “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

One former Power Five athletic director called it a “societal shift” leading the powers that be scrambling to figure out the viewing habits of millennials as well as well-heeled alumni.

“This is not surprising to me,” said Bill Lutzen, a veteran sports TV programmer who is currently the CFO of a web optimization firm. “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”

Gee, you mean there’s a price to pay for crapping all over your fan base?  Who’da thunk it?  Certainly not the geniuses who’ve been selling out the sport to whatever broadcast partner they can find with some cash to spend.  Well played, everyone.

Ordinarily, I’d say it’s something to bring to the attention a certain someone at Butts-Mehre, but he’ll be long gone by the time this particular poo hits the proverbial fan.

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Filed under College Football

A disturbing trend line

This doesn’t strike me as good news for the sport’s future.

Just days before the Super Bowl, 48 percent of Americans say they’d encourage a child who wanted to play football to play a different sport due to concerns about concussions — up 8 points since the same question was asked four years ago, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

That includes 46 percent of parents with a child in the household (up 9 points since 2014), 53 percent of mothers (up 13 points) and 39 percent of fathers (up 6 points).

If you want a picture painted, here you go.

That’s not a subtle change over a four-year period.  And there really isn’t anything going on in the present to re-direct the direction of that trend.

Schools and the NCAA are currently reacting — if you want to be generous with a description — to litigation threats, but longer term, what happens to the sport if the talent pool begins drying up because more and more parents refuse to let their kids play?  Do you think anyone on the collegiate level has even begun seriously considering the possibility?

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Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple

What is it about college football…

… that allows so many of you to wave off normal economic concerns?

The majority of responses to last night’s post about the impending increase in Georgia football ticket prices are consistent in chastising me for even mentioning the possibility, on the grounds that it’s an inevitability.  Skipping past the suspicion I have that most of this advice comes from folks with no skin in this particular game, why am I, as a consumer, expected to remain passive in the face of a cost increase?  Is there something about college football that requires me to demand nothing for my hard-earned money?  Do those of you who offer that advice operate that way in every other sphere of your economic lives?  (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

To put it in the vernacular of a comment I received this morning, why is raising ticket prices like the weather?  If we give B-M a pass on that, aren’t we encouraging more of the same down the road?  (Not to mention that nobody ever expects a reduction in ticket prices after a disappointing season.)  Are those of us paying the freight, so to speak, not even entitled to question how the money is being used, or why we can’t have a more fan-friendly game day environment if we have to pay more for the privilege?  What other things do you people buy in such a way?

Speaking of silence and encouragement, does it not occur to some of you that by failing to make demands of Butts-Mehre, we get the sort of mediocrity that’s been a hallmark of much of Georgia athletics for decades?

I suspect that if I drew a Venn diagram of the folks shrugging off the ticket price increase with those who insist that college football players are adequately compensated for their efforts, there would be a large overlap.  Again, with regard to the latter group, why do you have little compunction in urging that student-athletes accept conditions that you would never accept for yourself in your career?

So, what is it about college football?  Is it just that it’s so easy for some of you to dismiss the concerns of others if they don’t personally affect your pocketbook?  Or is it something about the sport in particular that makes you so passive?

I’m not asking these questions out of frustration or anger.  I’ll stroke the check for the new price because I can afford to do so and because I still get enough enjoyment out of my hobby that it’s in my interest to do so.  But I would never be as blithe as many of you are about it, even if I decided to walk away.  I’m simply curious where the source of your apparent indifference comes from.

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Filed under College Football

The enablers among us

I gather from the emails and comments I’ve already received that many of you have read the disheartening pieces at ESPN and The Athletic related to the unfurling scandal at Michigan State over sexual assault that appears to have permeated every level of sports administration from the coaching staffs at the school all the way to the upper reaches of the NCAA.  If you haven’t read them yet, by all means take the time to do so.

I suppose I should say at this point that it was almost a relief to find myself getting so angry as I read each.  It’s good to know that my jaded cynicism still has its limits.

That being said, there’s a huge difference here between being angry and being surprised.  And I am most assuredly not taken aback by the notion that powerful coaches of successful programs at best turned a blind eye and at worst… well,

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school has also deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

Even MSU’s most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.

Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines. Even more, Dantonio was said to be involved in handling the discipline in at least one of the cases several years ago. As recently as June, Dantonio faced a crowd of reporters who were asking questions about four of his football players who had been accused of sexual assault. Six questions in, a reporter asked Dantonio how he had handled such allegations previously.

“This is new ground for us,” Dantonio answered. “We’ve been here 11 years — it has not happened previously.”

Please don’t get me wrong here.  There are monsters among us who deserve everything the criminal justice system can throw at them.  Larry Nassar is a monster.  Jerry Sandusky is a monster.

But monsters don’t operate, don’t successfully seek out and find their prey over a number of years without institutional support, whether that comes from coaches protecting their programs, their reputations and their seven-figure annual salaries, or from administrators with similar motivations.

On Thursday, Outside the Lines reported that MSU officials in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar under way even though federal investigators were on campus that year scrutinizing how MSU dealt with sexual assault allegations. The Outside the Lines report also found that MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.

Don’t overlook this part, either.

The previously unreported cases that Outside the Lines discovered include three reports of physical violence and three reported sexual assaults by football players. Each was investigated by campus police.

As part of a 2014 reporting effort spanning 10 universities, ESPN requested copies of all police reports involving football and basketball players from campus and local police departments over six seasons. In Michigan State’s case, the university supplied the reports but marked out the players’ names — something East Lansing police did not do. ESPN ultimately sued MSU for the release of material, and Michigan courts ruled that the school had violated the state’s open records laws, awarded ESPN the unredacted records, and told MSU to pay ESPN’s attorneys’ fees. When ESPN submitted a subsequent records request last year, MSU took the unusual step of proactively suing ESPN to defend its withholding of the documents. A judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, wrote that a public body filing suit against a requestor could create a “chilling effect” and dissuade people from requesting records in the first place.

The tl;dr version of that:

That a school president could be a part of something like that and turn around and confidently assert that “there is no cover-up” on her way out the door while collecting a large buyout should tell you all you need to know about the institutional attitude of Michigan State.

Of course, as the second linked piece indicates, the buck didn’t stop at the desk of MSU’s president.  No, this one managed to climb higher.  Much higher.

NCAA president Mark Emmert was specifically alerted in November 2010 — six months after he was hired as the organization’s president — to 37 reports involving Michigan State athletes sexually assaulting women.

Kathy Redmond, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, provided The Athletic with a copy of the letter she sent to Emmert urging him to better protect women with new, stronger gender violence policy measures.

In the letter, which was sent after Redmond and Emmert met in person in Indianapolis to discuss the topic, she specifically highlighted concerns about Michigan State. Emmert was unavailable for comment to The Athletic on Friday afternoon.

That sound you hear is that of wagons circling.

If you look up the word naive in the dictionary, it’s hard to improve upon this as a definitional example.

“Mark Emmert was brand new, and he’d initially said, ‘One sexual assault is one too many,’ ” Redmond told The Athletic on Friday. “As soon as I heard that, I thought I might have an ally.”

How’d that work out?

“What I really got from the experience with Mark Emmert was, that governing body governs him,” Redmond said. “He met with me, which was great and I appreciated that. But the governing board has an awful lot of power. … It’s a strange setup. You do kind of get the fox guarding the hen house mentality. You do feel like the NCAA doesn’t like to do investigations because they like their relationships (with university officials and conferences). I think Mark Emmert came in with the right tone but quickly realized, ‘There’s not a lot I can do here.’ ”

I think we just have seen the epitaph for Emmert’s NCAA career.

The thing unanswered here — you may have already thought of it yourself — is that less than two years later, Emmert himself is ripping up the NCAA procedures manual in an effort to bring Penn State to heel.  But crickets on Michigan State.  Until now.

I’ve already asked what Emmert thinks he can accomplish, given that events on the ground have moved quickly in the wake of Nassar’s conviction, but that question takes on a different perspective when Redmond asks it.

“What are they going to look at, exactly?” Redmond said. “We know they haven’t complied with federal law. They haven’t been helpful with investigations, we know that. … Mark Emmert, when he met with me, said the NCAA can’t be ‘state actors.’ So, what is the policy that he’s going for? Or is he looking to create a different one?”

Still, Redmond said she fully supports the NCAA getting involved at Michigan State now and, in particular, probing the welfare and safety of female athletes treated by Nassar. She hopes the NCAA can help and listen to others, even if it hasn’t listened to her policy ideas or her warnings in the past.

“They shouldn’t ignore the whistleblowers, or dismiss them,” Redmond said. “And they’ve done that.”

Why would anyone expect better, knowing what we know now?  The only way things change is if outside force is applied.

It is time to recognize that collegiate sports at the highest level are a fundamentally corrupt exercise.  Money, power and authority combine to make a toxic brew.  The NCAA exists as an institution to enforce the flow of cash to those with power and authority and away from those without.  It is there, in other words, to have the collective backs of conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors on the business side of things.  That’s it.  There’s nothing else there, despite protestations to the contrary by the Emmerts and Remys of the world.  To pretend that these institutions are imbued with some nobility of purpose that drives their actions in the athletics sector is to be even more naive than Kathy Redmond was.

One more point of naivete:  if you still believe that events at Penn State, Baylor and Michigan State are isolated incidents, you need to disabuse yourself of that notion and quickly.  Don’t kid yourself.  Power corrupts and there are a lot of powerful people in D-1 college athletics.

I’m not saying that those who enable monsters are more evil than the monsters they enable.  More disgusting, though?  Yeah, I could go there.

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Filed under College Football, Crime and Punishment, The NCAA