There’s nothing like college football. There’s just something about it that makes it better than all of the pro sports in the US. It’s stadiums like the Rose Bowl, The Big House, Lane Stadium, Camp Randall, The Swamp, Kyle Field and Death Valley (LSU and Clemson). It’s traditions like touching the Play Like a Champion Today sign or dotting the I in Ohio. It’s great fight songs like the Notre Dame Victory March, On Wisconsin, Hail to the Victors, Anchors Aweigh, and Fight On. It’s stadium songs like Enter Sandman at Virginia Tech, Jump Around at Wisconsin, Dixieland Delight at Alabama, or Country Roads at West Virginia. But overall it’s the fans. College football fans are a rare breed. There’s any number of reasons for them to be attached to a certain team. Maybe they went to school there, maybe their kids or their parents went to school there, or maybe they to live close to a certain school. Whatever it is, the fans of college football set it apart from other sports in this country. But the powers that be (and yes that’s a nebulous term) have started to alienate or otherwise freeze out some of the diehards in a myriad of ways. So here’s a few ways that college football can be given back to the fans.
Fewer neutral site games
This one should be a no-brainer. Neutral site games just aren’t as much fun as games on campus. There are only four regular season games that should be neutral site games every year: Texas/Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, Florida/Georgia in Jacksonville, Texas A&M/Arkansas at Jerry World in Dallas, and Army/Navy in Philadelphia. Even Notre Dame of all schools has decided that its fans are far less important than playing games in New York or San Diego as part of the stupid Shamrock Series. The games in week 1 of the season would be so much better if they were played as home and homes. If you’re a Louisville or an Alabama fan, wouldn’t you much prefer that game to be at Bryant-Denny Stadium or Cardinal Stadium instead of Orlando? If you’re a Miami fan or an LSU fan wouldn’t you prefer that game to be at Hard Rock Stadium or Death Valley instead of Dallas? Tell me that the game between Tennessee and West Virginia wouldn’t be 10 times wilder if it was in Knoxville or Morgantown instead of Charlotte. It’s not fair to the fans to have to give up a home game and travel to a neutral site so an NFL owner can line his pockets. Put college football games back in college stadiums. It’s better for the players and it’s better for the fans.
This is perhaps the most important one. Attendance has been way down across college football the last several years and one of the reasons for that is that the cost of attending a college football game has gotten astronomically high. Tickets are very expensive, concession prices are outrageous, parking costs a fortune, and merchandise costs an arm and a leg. If you want fans to start coming back to games lower the ticket prices. And if you want the fans to spend money at the stadium, lower the concession prices. Several places are starting to lower the concession prices and are already making more money doing so (Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Phillips Arena in Atlanta have made that move, as well as Mississippi State athletics and Ole Miss basketball). If your events are not obscenely priced, the fans will be there. And they’ll be happier too.
Shorten the games
One of the biggest gripes fans have about college football is the length of the games, which are now lasting for over four hours. That’s totally unnecessary. There’s a variety of factors that play into this. Up-tempo offense are a small part of the problem, especially with the clock stopping for first downs. Some have floated the idea that marching bands at halftime are an issue (though an 18 minute halftime is only six minutes longer than an NFL halftime). The two biggest problems however are the numerous reviews and the number and length of media timeouts. How many times do we see officials in college football take forever to review a totally meaningless play? Way too many. And if the play is game altering? Oh boy, sit down and take a break because it’s going to be a while. But the worst of the worst is the TV timeouts. They kill the flow of the game, they kill the atmosphere in the stadium and they make what should take two hours take four hours. It’s awful. So here’s the solution. For reviews, adopt the NFL model and only review scoring plays and plays that are challenged by the coach. We don’t need to spend 15 minutes review a 4 yard completion on 2nd & 7 in the first quarter. And in terms of the TV timeouts the solution is simple: sell fewer ads but sell them at a higher price. The networks still get their ad revenue, the companies still get to run their ads and the fans are done with the game an hour earlier. Everybody wins.
Fewer midweek games
This one would go a long way towards helping the overall health of the game of football as well as making fans happier. We all love college football but sometimes there’s just too much and it’s not always a good thing. We all like to joke over the summer about getting fired up to watch a Tuesday night Sun Belt game but the reality is by the time college football gets here, those Tuesday night Sun Belt games are much less appealing. And not just for the fans but for the players and coaches too. We all love the #MACtion or #FunBelt but if you’re a fan of a team in those conferences, how much fun is it to go to a game on a Tuesday or Wednesday night? I’ve got to imagine that the fans would like to go to a Saturday game once in a while. And to be clear, I have no problem with Thursday and Friday night games. They have long been a college football staple and should stay that way. But games on Tuesdays and Wednesday is a bridge too far and not only should there be fewer of them, there really shouldn’t be any of them anymore.
Schedule better games
This one is kind of two parts so bear with me. Strength of schedule is a big deal in college football. This team played a schedule against these teams, but only two of those teams were Power 5 and two of them were FCS and so on. But as fans, does anybody really enjoy watching their team play FCS teams? And if you do, do you really want to pay over $100 to watch them do it? I wouldn’t and plenty of fans don’t. It’s one thing to play an FCS team to start your season but it’s another thing entirely to do it the penultimate week of the regular season, just because you have a rivalry game the next weekend. Teams like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Clemson, South Carolina all do it and it’s a slap in the face of the fans. So here’s what you do: you stop playing FCS teams as part of your regular season. But how will the FCS teams make their athletic budget (given that most of their income is from fat paychecks from big schools)? Do away with FCS teams on the regular season schedule but play them as your spring game. It helps your strength of schedule in the regular season and gives your fans a better game to watch and it makes your spring game more meaningful, which is also good for the fans. And of course the FCS schools still get their money. Everybody wins.
I’m sure there’s a dozen other ways to help improve the experience for college football fans but these are big ones. College football has gotten greedy in its pursuit of the almighty dollar (especially the almighty TV dollar) and they’ve left the fans behind. But what they fail to realize is that college football is nothing without the fans. And if you alienate the fans, they’ll simply stop turning up and stop tuning in. Give college football back to the fans and do it now.