College Sports

Mike Bianchi: Finally, Florida (and others) are scheduling big-name opponents like Texas to stem exodus of fans

At long last, the Florida Gators and athletics director Scott Stricklin announced recently they have scheduled two true non-conference home-and-home football series with Texas and Colorado.

My initial response: Hallelujah!

My second response: What took so freaking long?

Do you realize the Gators haven't left the State of Florida for a true non-conference road game since they played Syracuse in 1991? That's right, it's been 28 YEARS since the Gators last left the borders of the Sunshine State to play a game at an opponent's stadium.

And by the time the Gators play at Colorado in 2029, it'll be 38 YEARS!!! That was so long ago that the Soviet Union still existed, Nirvana was just ushering in music's Grunge movement and Thelma and Louise was playing at theaters.

The problem, of course, isn't that the Gators' don't go on the road to play quality non-conference opponents; the problem is they never play quality non-conference opponents (except FSU) at home. They have been filling their home non-conference schedule with the likes of Humpty Dumpty Tech, Al's Barber College and Pinky's Cosmetology Institute for years.

And, believe me, this isn't just a Gator issue; it's been happening for years at many of our big-time institutions of higher earning, er, learning. Schools like Florida, Florida State, Alabama and Clemson have been robbing their fans for generations by loading up a big portion of their home schedule with nothing more than exhibition games.

Traditionally, for instance, the Gators play seven home games – three of which are against FCS schools or low-level non-Power 5 teams that don't require a return game. Can you imagine expecting fans to spend thousands of dollars on season tickets and pay inflated prices for hotel rooms when nearly half of the home schedule is filled with a bunch of moonpies, cupcakes and creampuffs?

College football administrators have been taking advantage of fan loyalty for decades and finally the fans have had enough. Like any customer of any business who is being given an inferior product, more and more college football fans have simply quit buying season tickets and are simply staying home and watching on TV or finding other fun things to do on beautiful fall afternoons.

Good for Stricklin for seeing this growing trend and at least starting the process of changing Florida's long-time scheduling philosophy, And it's not just the Gators who are upgrading their schedule. In recent weeks and months it's been announced that FSU will play Georgia in a home-and-home series, Alabama will play Texas, Georgia will play Oklahoma, etc.

Thank goodness that colleges are finally getting the message. Obviously it was eye-opening early in Stricklin's tenure last season when UF season tickets were down an alarming 9,000 from the previous year even with new coach Dan Mullen going into his inaugural season. Average attendance among the 129 FBS teams last season was the lowest it's been in 22 years and the seventh time in eight years that attendance has declined.

Of course, there are many factors for the decrease in attendance, but the main one is that the game-day experience at stadiums across the country is failing to excite fans enough for them to leave their homes and their 70-inch high-def TVs to actually attend games. Let's face it, much of that game-day experience is based on the actual game-day opponent. Two of Florida's home games this season are against Tennessee Martin and Towson while two of FSU's home games are against Louisiana Monroe and Alabama State. Ugh.

If you ask me, two of these games per year are two too many – and three per year is absolutely ridiculous. College administrators will tell you that they need these non-return home games in order to make enough money to meet their budget. If you ask me, this is short-sighted thinking. The more you get fans in the habit of staying home for a couple of games per year; the more they might just decide to stay home for every game.

Finally, it seems, college administrators are starting to do the math and have come to a troubling conclusion.

It doesn't matter how many home games you have per season if nobody is in the stadium.

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