Death to the Neutral Site Game

By D.J. Byrnes on January 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm
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.

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