The 2022 season is months away and we are on track to having a massive month to open the season, with multiple high profile non-conference games. But getting back to the days of playing these games in home stadiums should be a priority for athletic directors across the country. No longer are the neutral site games in Dallas, Atlanta or Orlando as intriguing as they once were.
I had no problem when all of these cities started to bid on hosting these prime-time games, some of them have turned into classics, but a majority have turned into duds. I understand that athletic directors love to see the payout hit the athletic department budget sheet, but some of these games in the past have not been as entertaining. It’s usually hit or miss, one example being the 2021 matchup between Alabama and Miami in Atlanta, which turned into a 44-13 crimson beatdown.
One of the higher profile neutral site games on the same weekend in 2021 was played in Charlotte, where Clemson faced off against Georgia. The Bulldogs ended up winning that game 10-3 and setting off on a National Championship run. But it’s a bit different when both fanbases have a short drive, compared to how far Oregon fans will have to travel if they would like to watch their team compete against Georgia.
Georgia has played countless times in Mercedes Benz Stadium, last playing in the 2021 SEC Championship. But they will open the 2022 season on the same field, coming off a national championship. The allure of playing Oregon and former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning should sell some tickets, along with most fans not having to travel far, besides the Oregon faithful. But I think back to the games between Georgia and Notre Dame, seeing the images from South Bend with fans clad in red taking over the stadium. It was a bucket list type of game for Georgia fans, which we saw from Irish fans when they made the trip to Athens for the rematch.
But there are times where we get way to many cities trying to get in on the early season action.
The upcoming game between Florida State and LSU looks pretty nice on paper, even if both teams are looking to rebuild. The allure of the Seminoles and Tigers playing each other would be worth buying a ticket, but imagine if this game was played in Baton Rouge or Tallahassee. Yes, the Superdome is a fun venue, but why waste a perfectly good matchup in a town that is 45 minutes from the LSU campus. Imagine 102,000 fans on a Saturday night in Death Valley, or Doak Campbell Stadium hosting the Tigers and their legion of fans. But no, Florida State fans won’t get to experience Tiger Stadium and LSU fans won’t get to see what gameday is like around Tallahassee.
It’s a shame that some of these teams and their fanbases don’t get to experience an atmosphere outside of their conference. Luckily for Alabama fans, Nick Saban is a smart man and sees the benefit of taking his football team to Texas. Yes, the upcoming matchup between the Longhorns and the Tide’ on September 10th could end up being a one-sided game, but we won’t know until then. What both schools have done is give college football a matchup worth tuning in for, if only to see the white jerseys that Alabama will wear come running onto the field, engulfed by fans in burnt orange.
There stands Nick Saban, on the sidelines of a place that many years ago some folks thought they had a chance of getting him full-time. I don’t care what the score is by halftime, the buildup to this game around the city of Austin will be special, most certainly better than what it would’ve been if they were playing a game in Orlando or Charlotte.
This week in was put on full display, with Tennessee getting out of the return trip to BYU and scheduling another game in Nashville. I mean, we get it Vols, you enjoy playing in the Music City and it helps with recruiting, in the state. But this is the same stadium where you played your last game of the season and the one you were hoping to play the 2022 spring game. I understand the optics of the BYU game and how it went down, but this is getting old and so is that stadium in Nashville. There’s a big difference between playing in an indoor stadium and that concrete cinderblock they call Nissan Stadium. I’ve spoken with multiple people who were looking forward to the trip to Provo, Utah, which would’ve certainly been filled with 15,000 fans in orange.
But now, they can travel to the mid-state again and watch the Vols play Virginia, which is much better than playing a team like Bowling Green. But you lost out on an opportunity to give your brand some life outside of the south, just like Tennessee did when they traveled to Oregon and Oklahoma. These neutral site games are a cash grab that don’t touch the atmosphere of being an opposing fan sitting in the visitor section of an away game.
There is something special about wearing your favorite teams colors and walking around an opposing teams stadium, getting yelled at or having drinks thrown at you. Trust me, it’s fun. What’s even better is your team winning the game or keeping it close to the end, while watching the reactions of the fans you’ve been yelling at for the last sixty minutes.
I know it sounds like a broken record, because of the money being spent by most of these neutral site venues, but it would sure be nice to have some of these games played at home stadiums. Some schools are taking the steps to procure more home-and-home games in the future, but it’s hard to get excited for a game in 2033.
Nebraska and Northwestern are opening the 2022 season in Ireland, which should tell you everything about the current landscape of college football. Can’t wait to see the television ratings for that one.