BCS and Attendance

The Mountain West Conference, Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference have spent the last few years attempting to position themselves as being the next conference to become a BCS conference. The MWC has been talked about in many circles, as the conference closest to becoming a BCS conference. This talk is the result of some MWC program’s exploits on the gridiron. The BCS formula is a complicated one that takes into account wins and losses versus other BCS conferences, final rankings and other criteria. It basically boils down to a numbers game. However, though the BCS likes to trumpet membership is performance based, truth is the number that the BCS cares about is the number that follows the dollar sign.

The BCS at the end of the day is an entity which seeks to make money. So how does this obvious bit of knowledge pertain to the MWC, C-USA or WAC and its quest to become either an AQ conference or having its programs being AQ worthy? Very simple, Utah by making its jump to the Pac-10 has given non BCS schools and non-BCS conferences the blueprint. A program can either choose independently (as Utah) or the conference as a whole can work to do it, but it needs to be done and is an important (but unspoken) component of the BCS equation. This essential component is attendance and the money generated from attendance.

Utah has a decade record of (86-36) which is very good and among the leaders percentage-wise for non-BCS schools. Perception with Utah is that they have dominated the MWC and have been a Pac-10 program masquerading as an MWC program. “Holy War” game rival, BYU has been drop kicking Utah for many years prior to the 2000’s. BYU has also beaten the Utes three of the last four years so imagine the uproar from BYU fans at the news of Utah going to the Pac-10. This is a Utah program among its losses in conference in the last 5 years; has a loss to Air Force, to New Mexico, and a shut out at the hands of UNLV, UNLV?

I am by no means burying Utah or spitting in the face of their success, but I think it is time that we recognize the real reason Utah is in the Pac-10; the fans. The Pac-10 needed to expand. The conference needed a new market where the fans care about football, a fan base where the fans will road trip to games in Corvallis, Eugene and Pullman. A fan base that will head to the Alamo Bowl and stay in hotels for a week, or come to southern California for the Holiday Bowl, spend their money in area hotels, and on attractions. Utah’s fans will do all of this and more, do not believe for a minute that Ute fans are not waiting for the first press of Pac-10 gear with the Utes’ crimson helmet with the other 11 schools on a t-shirt, or the Pac-10 logo on one of those cool black under armor replica football jerseys. Pac-10 people expect new Utah “swag” to fly off the store racks from Salt Lake City to Cedar City. It should be obvious that the fans care. I am not saying that they do not at other schools, but if caring is going to the games here are the numbers.

Let us take a few programs in the MWC; UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego St. and Colorado St.. The MWC had an average attendance of; (32,021) in 2008 and (33,202) in 2009. Compare that with the Pac 10 (57,350), ACC (52,737) and Big East (43,145) in ’08; and in 09’ those conferences averaged Pac-10 (54,186), Big East (44,804) and ACC (51,249).

Taking the bottom four programs in the MWC (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego St. and Colorado St.) those schools averaged; UNM (29,713), UNLV (20,849), SDSU (24,376) and CSU (21,008) in 2008, in 2009 these schools averaged UNM (26,944), UNLV (22,775), SDSU (24,464) and CSU (23,643) to put things into perspective FCS Montana averaged (24,417). Now compare those MWC programs to the bottom four programs (performance-wise) in the Pac-10; UCLA (64,547), Washington St (25,909), Arizona St. (48,566) and Washington (64,356) and you see the difference.

Looking further into some of the numbers, Washington suffered through am 0-12 campaign in 2008 and managed to draw (68,161) for their 2009 home opener, Colorado St went to a bowl game in 2008 and drew (23,417) for the 2009 home opener and this was after beating in-state rival Colorado. What? New Mexico prior to 2008 was coming off of a Bowl victory and the best season in years and managed to draw (31,000)for their home opener versus league rival TCU. UCLA was coming off of being awful the season prior and drew (68,546) for their home opener.

If you look at attendance figures only BYU and Utah averaged in excess of 45,000 for home attendance in 2009. TCU averaged 38,000 last season and if you look at MWC newcomer Boise St they averaged just over 32,000 last season. None of those figures are particularly eye popping when you compare them with a mid level BCS program like let us say ;Virginia (47,986). There is a key difference between BCS programs and non BCS programs, and it is not just in facilities, it is in the overall fan support and passion.

Fans at BCS schools show up win or lose, They understand that they are an essential piece of the program’s success. They understand the relationship between they and the Athletic Department (not just the football program) is synergetic. They show up wearing the home team’s gear and support the team whether they like the coach or not, fans feel it is an appointment that must be kept. The fans understand that potential fortune changing recruits could be watching the game on television or could be in the stands for a visit. They understand a packed stadium speaks volumes to potential recruits. The fans have realized that if they sell out their 38,000 seat stadium that the athletic department may want to expand the stadium, which will attract better recruits, your team having better recruits may not guarantee that you win big, but you will not be 0-12.

We are in an age of college football where a 6-6 record and great attendance assures you a bowl game. The program reaps the benefits that come with going to a bowl game. Another difference is fans at BCS schools understand that if you do not like the direction of the program they show up to the games with clever signs noting your displeasure, key phrase THEY SHOW UP!!!! At non BCS programs they show up dressed as empty seats. This behavior only tells the outside world that you either do not care, or you have better things to do with your time. It says football is not important (turning off potential recruits and more importantly commissioners of other conferences). Having lived for a time in a couple of these C-USA, MWC or WAC cities, I ask what is there to do in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Las Cruces/El Paso or Laramie on a Saturday afternoon or evening? If there is something more important or has to be absolutely done at the time the game is being played, let me know because I did and do not currently see it. Bottom line if your program has nice facilities, draws in excess of 50,000 people for your games consistently, I don’t see how the BCS keeps you out of their exclusive party.

You constantly hear things like market size being thrown around as if the size of the market automatically makes your program relevant; Las Vegas and Albuquerque are markets in the 40’s and 30’s but when the Rebels or Lobos play is it must see TV in their markets? Lincoln and Omaha as markets which are closer to the 100’s but Nebraska fans if they are not at Memorial Stadium with 80,000 of their closest Red clad friends, have made and kept their appointment to watch the Huskers on the TV. Drive through a Nebraska city on game day you’ll notice that Lincoln and Omaha look like the some of the ghost towns in northwestern Nebraska, all that is missing is a tumbleweed dancing through the middle of town.

Football and attendance are essential pieces to the decisions being made, if the fans of seven of the nine programs in the MWC understood this came out in droves to games on a regular basis the MWC becomes a BCS conference without an issue, the performance aspect becomes a footnote, because it is about the money that programs generate and could potentially generate for the BCS. You almost wonder if the attendance side of the argument gets addressed and if it does why Craig Thompson when talking expansion (yes I am aware that the MWC has said it will not expand) asks Montana to join which draws better than at least three programs, and hot on the heels of another. The fans of non AQ schools need to realize how important they are in becoming BCS worthy. Are you listening fans of UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado St., Wyoming and San Diego St.?