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Premier Home and Home’s Good for the Fans

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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It may have taken a drop in attendance, but the top ACC and SEC programs have stumbled upon their best idea in years.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Those are good words to live by, but the phrase doesn’t apply to the latest fad in college football.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. If not for a rocky journey, college football may never have stumbled upon one of the best things to happen to the sport in years.

Many things have threatened and continue to jeopardize the popularity of college football. It’s certainly not close to extinction, but conference realignment, the widening gap between the elite programs and the rest of the country along with star players skipping bowl games have in some form or fashion eroded the sport.

Not to mention, improving in-home technology and social media have influenced many fans to stay home on Saturdays. The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel reports the FBS-wide average attendance has declined in seven of the last eight years.

In response to bring those fans back to the stadiums, big-time college football programs have begun scheduling more home-and-home series. Mandel writes that it’s a fad that’s been popular in the Pac-12 for years, but it’s just beginning to spread across the country.

Dating back to last season, here are the major home-and-home series that SEC and ACC teams have scheduled for the upcoming decade:

Alabama-Texas
Georgia-Oklahoma
Georgia-Florida State
Clemson-LSU
Clemson-Oklahoma

And maybe the biggest one of all, refueling an old rivalry: Georgia-Clemson (that doesn’t include Notre Dame-Oklahoma).

Mandal wrote in a mailbag column last week that these major programs have realized that in order to improve attendance and bring in more money (profits that, in many cases, must fund the rest of the athletic department), schools have decided to forego playing major neutral site games coupled with cupcake teams at home and elected to play more home-and-home series against formidable opponents.

However, whether Mandal is right in his assessment of how college football arrived at this decision (the journey) is irrelevant. In this case, the destination is all that matters because the growing fad of home-and-home series for major SEC and ACC programs is a major win for all parties.

The biggest reason many programs play so many neutral site games at professional stadiums is for recruiting. For example, teams like Auburn and Alabama have played in Atlanta on opening weekend the last two seasons. Furthermore, Syracuse has sacrificed a home game to play at MetLife Stadium or Yankee Stadium several times over the last decade.

It’s hard to calculate how impactful those types of games are for a program because there really isn’t an exact formula to building a brand.

But playing the most meaningful non-conference game away from campus and most of the loyal fanbase isn’t ideal. Bringing Texas to Tuscaloosa and Oklahoma to Athens in the next decade absolutely is and will be must-have tickets those seasons.

Besides, there’s recruiting advantages to those home games too. It’s one extra weekend to show off campus and the game-day atmosphere to the high school kids.

With these home-and-home series, programs make more money and season-ticket holders receive the opportunity to see a national contender instead of a cupcake. It doesn’t really hurt recruiting and the players win too. When Alabama travels to Texas, Crimson Tide players will make a memory playing in Texas Memorial Stadium.

No other previous Alabama player can say they’ve done that.

But amazingly, maybe the biggest winner in this situation is college football’s casual fans. Because just like the tickets to those contests will be must-have items, these games will be must-watch events.

Remember when Texas and Ohio State played each other in a home-and-home series in 2005 and 2006? In both of those games, each team was ranked in the Top 5, and in 2006, Ohio State was No. 1 and Texas sat at No. 2.

In the first matchup, Texas won by a field goal. It was one of the most memorable September games of that decade.

That’s what the casual college football fan will be getting on nearly a yearly basis with this new home-and-home fad. With so many of them, maybe they won’t be as memorable, and not all of them will finish as close games. But the hype will be there, and it’s still miles better than the alternative -- Alabama facing The Citadel or Clemson hosting Furman.

College football hopes these home-and-home series will fix its attendance problems. Maybe it will, but whether it does or not, the casual fan at home has more intriguing games to watch.