Death to the Neutral Site Game

By DJ Byrnes on January 29, 2014 at 2:55p
Oh, what an atmosphere this would be for a playoff game.

There are many reasons to prefer the college football game over the NFL. Besides being the safest vehicle to express deep-seated regional jingoism, my favorite reason is college teams aren't beholden to the whims of an owner.

Columbus will never be extorted for hundreds of millions of dollars to ward off the prospect of the Buckeyes moving to Baltimore. No, college teams are beholden to their communities. There are no pleas for public financing when some idiot billionaire decides his revenue streams aren't thick enough.

As a result, Ohio Stadium is a cathedral with more history than any NFL stadium. (Then again, the same could be said for any stadium of an historically elite college football program when compared to any NFL stadium not named Lambeau or Soldier Field.)

And these venues, swathed in so much history and embedded in such massive media markets as Lincoln, Nebraska and Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, are a massive part of the aura of a college game day.

So, why are colleges scheduling neutral site games in soulless, historically-void arenas?

The answer, of course, is money.

For example, Florida and Michigan will face-off in the 2017 Cowboy Classic in Jerry Jones' Electricity Sieve. Besides being the first out-of-conference game Florida has played outside its home state since 1991, it will also be a reported $6,000,000 payday for the Gators. 

So if it's assumed Jerry Jones is shelling out something like $12,000,000 to host the game — plus whatever millions ESPN will pay to broadcast it — the money staked in an alleged amateur athletic event is rather staggering.

It also helps you understand why Texas' athletic director might want to play a game in Mexico City. (It sure as hell isn't a bone thrown to Mexican Longhorn fans.)

And yet, none of this was mentioned in the NCAA's release yesterday warning us about the professionalization of its athletes. I'm not sure how pimping out student-athletes to Jerry Jones' pocketbook helps the student-athlete or his sacred studies, but I suppose that's a topic for another day.

What I am concerned about are the fans — any sports' lifeblood — being further priced out from following the teams they love in person.

Many people heralded the death of Bowl Championship Series. And rightfully so; the BCS was an archaic system of nepotism. Yet, the leeches that lived off the corroded veins of the BCS have merely shifted to the College Football Playoff. Doubt me? Bill Hancock, the BCS exec who acted as if the world would fall of its axis if the BCS were scrapped, is now the CEO of the playoff. (It's funny how quickly money can change hubris.)

I'm willing to concede the site of the national title game, which I think should be played in the Rose Bowl in perpetuity, but why are the semi-finals being held in the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls? Why set the precedent of neutral-site playoff games that will only impede the inevitable expansion of the playoff field? (And believe me, playoff expansion is inevitable.)

If every fan were paid like a bowl executive, traveling to a semi-final game AND a national title game wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, I doubt many fans are making anything in the neighborhood of $800,000 annually

Why should fans be priced out of seeing their favorite teams' biggest games? Why should college football teams be used to make the likes of Jerry Jones even more money? Why should the economies of Columbus, East Lansing, Tuscaloosa, or Tallahassee lose out on the tens of millions of dollars generated by a home football game? These are OUR teams, after all.

Outside of the Red River Shootout Rivalry and a few other notable exceptions, the neutral site game strikes against the very heart of college football; you know, the heart of which the NCAA is its supposed vanguard.

Yet, the NCAA will go to battle against 18-21 year-old kids whose only interests are guaranteed scholarships (hello, Alabama) and coverage for life-long medical problems caused by their playing careers. But when the NCAA is faced with a foe who is equally financed and also equipped with an army of lawyers, it crumbles faster than a Nature Valley granola bar. It'd be comical if it weren't so pathetic.

I applaud Vice President Gene Smith and Ohio State for avoiding regular season neutral site games, but I'm afraid Pandora's box has already been opened on the national front.

I envision night playoff games against the likes of Alabama in a snow-covered Ohio Stadium, but instead we'll get to watch our Buckeyes under the prestigious Tostitos, Vizio and Chik-fil-A banners.

And again, that's fine as long as you enjoy watching games from home or are a bowl executive (or get paid like one). Otherwise, you're simply out of luck.


Comments Show All Comments

fear_the_nut70's picture

John Bacon does a great job of extolling the virtues of CFB over the NFL in his book "Fourth and Long."  One of my favorites was the description of the stadiums on campus surrounded by majestic buildings versus cookie cutter stadiums surrounded by asphalt parking lots.
Good article DJ.  As a general rule, the more CFB is made to look like the NFL, the worse the sport gets for those of us passionate about what makes CFB unique.

chrisgerard's picture

I agree with the "cookie cutter stadiums surrounded by asphalt parking lots".  Went to the Orange Bowl this year.  Made me wonder what was special about a game in a pro stadium set in the middle of a parking lot?  Horrible setting for a game.

Maffro's picture

One of my favorite quotes, from Stewart Mandel:
"College football should never, ever be more like the NFL. The NFL is boring, sterile, artificial, unimaginative and basically the antithesis of everything that makes college football special."

fear_the_nut70's picture

Bacon asked: "who would you expect to be more passionate, a volunteer army or hired hessians (think, CFB players pick the school, pros are drafted.  Good analogy)."  Exactly.  There are walk-ons and even 2 and 3 star kids who know they will probably never be drafted and ever play a down in the NFL, which means they are doing it for the love of the game and representing their school and community. 

thirtytrap's picture

Pro football...drop back pass, drop back pass, drop back pass....PUNT TEAM!!  Drop back pass, drop back pass, HOLLY SHIT THEY RAN THE BALL....PUNT TEAM!!  Drop back on and so on.....

dcviper's picture

As much as I dislike that guy (merely for being a *ichigan Man, mind you), I gotta agree. Everyone should read that book.

M Man's picture

I speak only for myself; but I think it is fair to characterize a LARGE number of Michigan fans as being seriously pissed off that another neutral site game has been scheduled.
Our enthusiasm for the first Jerryworld Bowl versus Alabama lasted about 30 days.  Until we found out that there was no budget to send the band to the game.  And the idea that "Hey this will help us in the fertile Texas recruiting searches" faded.  And we parsed the money terms and found out that the money was fine, but not dazzling.
And then we played Alabama.
I had thought that the silver lining in that shitstorm would be that we'd wait about 100 years before ever attempting anything like that again.  Nope.
I congratulate the author of this post on a fine discussion, and I congratulate Gene Smith on resisting all overtures (so far) for neutral site games.

fear_the_nut70's picture

Bacon actually was very neutral toward Ohio State and pretty critical of UM, especially Dave Brandon.  Honestly, wasn't tough to read at all, and I do think that even though he does ramble on at times (not sure what his over all point was), he makes so many good arguments and gives you enough of a behind the scenes look at the B1G, that it is well worth the read.

acBuckeye's picture

Interesting take considering the overwhelming majority of college football fans want a playoff. Doesn't implementing a playoff in D1-A football make it more like the NFL? I thought we were trying to avoid being like the NFL?

Seth of MGoBlog's picture

Strongly agree on the characterization. If 11Wites are holding off from reading it because he's a Michigan fan, know that he was over-kind to the Buckeyes. That part, other than his description of Big Ten campuses during the MSU-OSU game, was all about Urban trying to get Zach Boren to like him. And Bacon was very hard on his alma mater's AD.
I was surprised he used Spartan Stadium. It's drab cement surrounded by lots of drab cement (no offense but I felt the same way about the Shoe--that place is built to strike terror into visitors, not welcome them for a pleasant afternoon). I mean, this is the conference with a team in Evanston and Madison--why not use those?
Anyway the worst Big Ten gameday atmosphere is a thousand times more charming and more fun than the best NFL experience.

Associate Editor & Business Manager

Killer nuts's picture

It runs everything

vitaminB's picture

CREAM get the money...

Furious George 27's picture

Neutral site games are lame and are hardly "neutral" i.e. Boise vs UGA in Atlanta.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Menexenus's picture

Preach it, DJ!  Justice for the fans (who want to watch their teams in big games)!  Justice for the players (who want protection from being cut by the likes of Tuscalucifer)!

Real fans stay for Carmen.

InvertMyVeer's picture

LOL +1 for Tuscalucifer

Football is complicated...

Killer nuts's picture

Bowl execs be like...

Maffro's picture

Neutral site games are also popular because they're easy to schedule. More often than not, they offer instant gratification. Imagine if we played Oregon next year without having to worry about return dates, or without hoping it doesn't fall through as something comes up down the line, or without worrying about whether they'll still be good in 10 years or whenever we're scheduled to play them.
I don't like it, but it's easy to see their appeal for fans and administrators.
(This is, of course, not referring to stupid things like the Wisconsin-LSU neutral-site "home-and-home" that will be played somewhere other than Camp Randall and Death Valley.)

Crumb's picture

We midwesterners have been used to 'neutral' site games not being neutral every year in the Rose Bowl when we have to fly across the country to face a team from California in L.A. At the very least I'd like to see some of the playoff games in the region here, and it doesn't even have to be outdoors, just try Indy or Detroit. Could you imagine the media outrage if back in the 07 season if our guys had played LSU in Indy or Cincy? We're the Midwest, we're used to being screwed out of neutral site games. Still it does piss one off.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

TMac's picture

An August/September "neutral" site game seems much more acceptable to me as I'd rather see Florida vs tTUN than a combination of Florda vs Georgia Southern & tTUN vs App State. (Well Maybe I would rather see those two again!) but my point is I'd rather see quality early games over cream puffs. And I do recognize the trend to schedule more quality OOC games. 
Hopefully the inevitable (I agree!) expansion of the Playoffs will include higher seeded home games!

ONE Not Done!

averagejoel419's picture

"I applaud Vice President Gene Smith and Ohio State for avoiding regular season neutral site games"
We open this coming season with a neutral site game, not sure if Gene scheduled it though.

DJ Byrnes's picture

Yeah I couldn't find anything to that regard. Regardless, it's against Navy, which plays in Annapolis, 40 minutes away from where they're playing. I dont really consider that a neutral site game. 

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

TheOtherDJ's picture

It's kind of/sort of a neutral site reality it's a home game for Navy.  It was decided to play there vice Annapolis, as Navy/Marine Corps Stadium is pretty small, and the USNA wanted to accommodate a larger crowd (as did OSU) it was moved up the road to Baltimore.
Same thing as when we play Cincinnati at PBS, or when we played Toledo at Cleveland Browns Stadium.  Both are away games for OSU, but at larger venues for the home teams to generate more revenue and accommodate the larger throngs of Buckeye fans.
Good stuff DJ.

hetuck's picture

This was originally scheduled as a home-and-home with Army until they backed out. Navy filled the breach. I think JT wanted a series with a service academy after 9/11 plus it would have given exposure in metro NYC. Ironic we will now get regular exposure in both metro NYC & DC.  

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

BuckFly's picture

Instead of the neutral site game, Gene Smith gave us Florida A&M in 2013.

DJ Byrnes's picture

Fair point here.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

NitroBuck's picture

Good point, especially when considering that the non-conference schedule took hits as a result of Vandy bailing out and Cal showing signs of having the Fecal Touch.

Ferio.  Tego.

fear_the_nut70's picture

You are missing the big picture--battle of the bands (as Florida A&M supposedly has a great band).
Of course, they didn't bring their band.

Furious George 27's picture

Was it even feasible for OSU to work out a nuetral site game with anyone when Vandy backed out last minute? I hate the idea of a nuetral site game because it takes away from the atmosphere. IMO the only allowable instance would be if the game was the 1st CFB game of the year a week before everyone else started (Kickoff Classic).

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

JohnnyKozmo's picture

Navy tends to play it's bigger home games at either M&T or Fedex (ND this year).  Not sure if it's their choice or the the visiting teams, since they are usually the bigger draw.  

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

Nashville Buckeye's picture

One point that some would try to argue is that neutral site games give a chance for fans of the teams that live in different parts of the country to see their favorite team play in person, when they may not have otherwise had the opportunity.
For example, Fans of TTUN and UF that live in Dallas might not have the chance to go to TSUN or Florida for the game, but having it in Dallas gives them that chance.
As a player, I would prefer a home and home series instead of a neutral site though.  Especially if my stadium was as big as the Shoe.  More people can fit in the Shoe than can fit in the Billion Dollar Playpen.  Bigger crowds leads to a better atmosphere.
Go Bucks!

ToledoMan's picture

So we're saying we don't want to see OSU take on Florida in a "Neutral" site Jacksonville stadium?

Young_Turk's picture

I'm probably too old to have kids at this point, but if I ever have a son, he'll be named after my favorite "ism" and my 2nd favorite civil war general.  
Jingoism Tecumseh Wilson


BoFuquel's picture

Whatever will make the most money for TOSU is fine with me. Them other teams I don't watch anyway, so it don't matter to me. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Mortc15's picture

Having home games for the higher seeds in the semifinals are a great idea. But also an idea that will NEVER happen when money does all the talking. However, and this is just a thought/question, if large stadium teams routinely make the playoff and host those games, which can seat almost as many, as many, or more people than the bowl games, would that not make money for the college football playoff? Obviously there will be teams that can't seat that many some years, but give the playoff a share of that seating and then also have all the bowl games after the playoff as regularly scheduled and even more revenue would be made from it. 
My thoughts regarding two trips are this: there are die-hards that will attend every game. However, for people who want to see OSU play in a "bowl game," they'll go to the semifinal as it is guaranteed. Then if they make it to the national champ., that same person doesnt have the funds to go since they spent their vacation money for the year on the first one.
I dont know whether there is a sure-bet fix, and there probably isn't, but either way, these things will be ruled by money and whichever way makes the most.


causeicouldntgo43's picture

Is it too much to ask for Buckeye fans to one day see a CFB playoff game at Ohio Stadium (once it expands beyond the inevitable 4 teams)?
If they can start a petition to deport Beiber and get the required 100,000 signatures, I'm sure we could get that many just from the fans in attendence at the next home game. DJ - lead the charge!

Seattle Linga's picture

Nice point ........  I wish I could say this will happen soon.

Knarcisi's picture

8 team playoff, top 4 seeds get a home game. 

causeicouldntgo43's picture

It's the Occams Razor solution. So simple, it just makes too much sense. Guess we'll never see it then.....

DJ Byrnes's picture

The problem is I think other bowls will try to muscle their way into the honeypot, like the Cotton and Chik-fil-A bowls did this time around.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

It's "weather discrimination" by God.

darbnurb's picture

Can we start a petition to refer to them to as "Alternative site" games only and leave out neutral?  

TimmyZ's picture

We can, but I think Obama has enough to deal with, such as the petition to get Bieber deported.

Seth of MGoBlog's picture

Every time I turn around it seems OSU is scheduling a real opponent home-and-home, and I get embarrassed that Michigan went to Jerryworld and is now making plans to play Florida in Jacksonville or some such.
We went to Athens a few years ago to see Georgia-Tennessee. Ever since I've been dying to do a home-and-home with an SEC school. But that would mean one less home game one year, and that Michigan would have to share the proceeds of that equally with Rutgers, who scheduled a I-AA team and drew 3,000.

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