Posted by Adam Jacobi
As the days, weeks, and months creep by and the NFL labor situation gets no closer to resolution, diehard NFL fans find themselves in a predicament: what is there to do if there's no pro football? Do they breathe a sigh of relief and count the money they'll end up saving? Do they take up other activities, recommit themselves to family life on weekends, and put sports in general on the back burner? Or do they stare at an upcoming autumn devoid of football, freak out, and find the nearest college team to support until pro ball comes back?
If the NCAA is wise, it'll bank on the last scenario -- that NFL fans are really football fans. Then, it'll throw its full-throated support behind the NFL owners, who are currently fighting tooth-and-nail to protect the lockout they've placed on the players ... and reap the glorious benefits. Let's face it, no business for the NFL is good business for college football, and there are several college programs in particular that stand to benefit immensely from a protracted work stoppage in the pro ranks.
The Miami Hurricanes have a new coach and, um, plenty of seats for displaced NFL fans. Colorado has a new coach and a new conference with new rivals. Minnesota's got a new coach and a two-year-old stadium that makes the Metrodome look like... well, the Metrodome was already terrible, but TCF Bank Stadium is still a major plus for the Gophers. Those are three prime opportunities for athletic departments to encourage new fans to "help us start a new chapter in our future." Think Dolphins, Vikings, and Broncos fans aren't going to notice that opportunity? Especially if college tickets are half as expensive and there are ten times as many gorgeous young women at the tailgates?
The Houston Cougars should have Case Keenum back to finish his quest to break the NCAA passing records. He's just the next step in Houston's tradition of great college quarterbacks (David Klingler, Andre Ware, and to-a-somewhat-lesser-extent-but-he-
was-still-pretty-darned-good Kevin Kolb), and it would be insane for the Cougars not to publicize his assault on the record books on a weekly basis. Besides, no offense to the Texans, but the Cougars are the local team with more football tradition anyway.
Northwestern has billed itself as "Chicago's college football team" recently. That seems a little unfair to the hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans who are alumni of other major universities, but if the Chicago Bears are sitting at home on Sundays, Northwestern turns into the city's ONLY football team. Similarly, the idea of Indiana actually selling out its Memorial Stadium on a regular basis seems like far less of a pipe dream if Lucas Oil Stadium's sitting empty on weekends. Purdue would be happy to accommodate some of those Colts fans too.
The impact of a large influx of fans, if even for a game or two, is not insignificant. 10,000 extra tickets sold for $25 a pop equals a quarter-million dollars in extra ticket revenue alone, to say nothing of concessions, merchandise, and parking fees. That's something some teams can accomplish in one game. And that's just immediate money in. There's also the inroads made with fans, particularly younger ones. Making entreaties to families and younger adults means that the college football program can start cultivating long-lasting fan relationships -- and new donors. The alumni associations can always use the help, after all.
So, athletic directors and college coaches. Line up shoulder-to-shoulder behind the NFL's owners, and stand tall in their support. Then take, take, take from them. College football will be stronger for it.