College football is more popular than ever and why not? Unlike pro teams that leave one city for another (Oakland-L.A.-Oakland Raiders), college teams don't move around. Many fans feel a strong attachment to a university because State U. is where they obtained a degree, and even those who weren't fortunate to attend college follow the team with pride, riding an emotional rollercoaster each week as the gladiators enter battle.
But college football, even with this unprecedented level of popularity, has problems, and you the fan are paying the price.
More and more teams are following this blueprint for success: Schedule four lousy nonconference games — preferably at home — and finish at least 2-6 in conference. A 6-6 record gets your team into one of the endless number of bowl games and keeps the alumni happy. After all, there's nothing quite like spending the holidays away from the family in an exotic locale such as Shreveport or Boise.
The excuse given for scheduling creampuffs is that good, old State U. needs a few tuneups before playing legitimate competition. This, of course, is a big, fat lie. The real reason is that coaches and athletic directors like their big, fat paychecks. Going to a bowl game every year virtually guarantees another year on the coach's contract. And if the coach doesn't get fired, the athletic director has nothing to worry about. Win-win and cash in. Besides, everybody seems to be doing it, outside of the Pacific 10.
At least the bottom-feeders are getting wise to this. Florida Atlantic, for example, is getting $900,000 out of Texas for Saturday's matchup in Austin. That's more than $550,000 higher than the national average payout of $332,201.
Louisiana State is spending $2.85 million for nonconference victories against Appalachian State, Troy, North Texas and Tulane — all at Tiger Stadium, of course.
Thrifty fans struggling to pay rising prices long ago decided to skip buying tickets to meaningless games in order to secure seats to matchups against legitimate opponents. Colleges took note, starting with Iowa State in 2007. The Cyclones required that fans buy a season ticket if they wanted a seat to the team's marquee matchup against rival Iowa. The plan worked, with sales of Iowa State season tickets rising by 22%.
Other colleges have followed. Oklahoma State — flush with millions from T. Boone Pickens — is charging $100 for a seat to its home game against Oklahoma. In order to purchase that ticket, you have to buy a season seat at $419.
This brings us to a study by the Oregonian, which examined the price of tickets for the Bowl Championship Series teams. Let's examine three categories:
- The ordinary ticket. This is the least expensive single-game ticket available. South Florida is the lowest at $10. Ohio State, Texas and Notre Dame are the highest at $65.
- The marquee ticket. This is the least expensive ticket to a top or rivalry game. South Florida is at the bottom at $10. The previously mentioned Oklahoma State is most expensive at $100.
- The high-end ticket. This is the cost of a marquee ticket, hot dog and large soda. South Florida comes in at $21.50. Oklahoma State is at $108.
So while coaches and athletic directors continue to water down schedules, you the fan are paying more for an inferior product. Seriously, don't buy into this nonsense. You're too smart for this.
The BCS needs to bring the strength of schedule component back into its formula for selecting teams for its games. There's no reason BCS teams can't play each other in nonconference play, an idea put forth this weekend by Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer. Giglio proposes a BCS Challenge, matching two teams from each of the six BCS conferences and sprinkling those six games into the first two weekends of the season.
Giglio writes: "The sport wins. The fans, who are now mostly subjected to lopsided pre-conference yawnfests, win. TV wins. The winners — and, by proxy, their respective conferences — would, well, win. But even the losers win because the games would be so early in the season, there would be plenty of time to recover in the BCS standings."
Sounds like a plan we can endorse.