Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thoughts on Michigan-Georgia

Since the entire Georgia football blogging community has weighed in on the subject of pressing for Kyle King's suggested Michigan-Georgia home/home series, I guess it's about the right time for me to add my two cents.

I'm in favor of interesting matchups for the Dawgs as a general rule. I'm a season ticket holder, and since the increase in the minimum donation kicked in last year, each ticket costs approximately $75-100, and when you add tailgating supplies, travel and hotel (if needed), each home game costs a decent amount of money. It adds up. For this and this reason alone, I want each home game to be "worth it". In my opinion, every conference game is worth the cost, because of the longstanding traditions between the schools (I even have good Vandy and Kentucky memories). The home game against Tech every other year is clearly of importance. Typically, there is one other home game that is at least a decent matchup (though I wouldn't say that this is always the case). Boise State this past year was an interesting opponent and on paper a good matchup. I've seen Texas Tech, Southern Miss, and Clemson (and UCF and UAB were decent opponents, though not stellar). That said, every year since I can remember Georgia has had at least one utterly terrible opponent on the schedule. Louisiana-Monroe, Utah State, Arkansas State, Kent, New Mexico State, MTSU, Houston (better now, not then)... All of these teams came to Athens and cashed a check. What was supposed to have happened for the most part did, we learned nothing about our team, and while the athletic department made some money (which can be put to good use), in a way I felt like I didn't get my money's worth. Now, before any diehard Georgia fans come down on me, please know that a weekend spent in Athens and an afternoon in Sanford Stadium is always better than one not. But would you spend the money and time watching a glorified scrimmage, where only bad things can happen (injuries, God forbid a loss to a pathetic team)? There's a reason why they can't charge full price (do they even charge anything? I can't remember paying when I've gone) to the G-Day game.

So on principle and for the sake of our getting our money's worth, I'd love for Georgia to play good opponents in out-of-conference games. HOWEVER, I also see the need for Georgia to play a reasonable schedule. I do not want Georgia to play week in and week out top 5 teams, and lose with a greater frequency than they should. A balance must be struck. Playing the toughest schedule in the country and going 7-4 is not better in my book than playing a schedule comparable to most other major college football programs and going 9-2.

With all that said, with the addition of the 12th game to the schedule, I don't see a problem with Georgia scheduling (of the three available OOC games) at least one very good to outstanding program for a home/home series. With Louisville, Colorado and Arizona State on the schedule for upcoming years, I think we're already moving in the right direction. Michigan wouldn't be all that huge of a step up from those programs, and the benefits both sides would get from such a series would make the risk of losing worth it. I'm for it.

Now, in one of my earliest college football posts, I delved into the subject of "inter-sectional" matchups. That post was first and foremost a defensive posture against the prevailing discussion in mass media and by several West Coast bloggers that the SEC is "chicken" because they don't travel 8 hours every time they play. I took the position that intra-sectional games can be every bit as compelling as inter-sectional games, and I stand by that assessment. In a way, I think I'd prefer to play Clemson every year over some of the OOC games scheduled. I think that rivalry deserves our respect (and animosity). I'd prefer an annual home and home against them instead of travelling to places like Cincinnati. Now, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be in favor of travelling outside the region to play a more-quality opponent, just, ceteris paribus, I don't see anything of inherent value just in the travelling. I would probably consider Michigan a better (more tradition, higher profile, national appeal) matchup than Clemson. And while it raised a lot of points related to this movement for a UM-UGA game, I didn't write it to suggest that Georgia not travel to play good opponents. They should. But they shouldn't travel to the other side of the country to play opponents which are worse (or even equal) than ones just up the road. (I bring it up because of Mayor King's discussion here.)

Taking a step back, ideally, I'd like to have home and home games against both Clemson and Georgia Tech (when we're at home against one, we travel to the other), play one home game against a mediocre to decent team (Conference USA teams, not Sun Belt or 1-AA schools), and play one other decent to excellent team (Colorado, Louisville, up to Michigan). But because of the neutral site game at Jacksonville, it might not be feasible. In years when Florida is a "Home" game, Georgia Tech is a home game as well, so let's assume Clemson would be a road game. In order to get to 6 home games (and assuming that 6 is needed to be economically feasible and "keep up with the Joneses"), both other OOC games must be played between the hedges. Playing a Southern Miss or Memphis in one game likely wouldn't require a return trip. But to play a top opponent like Michigan (with Clemson on the schedule annually), we'd have to set it up where we get the home game in a year when Florida is also a home game. In a year when Florida is an "away" game, Tech is also an away game, but Clemson would be a home game, needing us to have only one other home game to get to 6. We could feasibly set it up to have a H/H with both Clemson and Tech, and do home and homes with very good opponents.

But "feasibly" doesn't translate to reality. The future of college football will change dramatically with the advent of the permanent 12 game season. Under an 11 game schedule 6, home games is SOP for programs that make money at home (obviously, the converse is true for schools that don't draw 80K+). Under the trial 12 game schedule a few years back, it was clear that 7 home games became the market standard for moneymaking schools. In fact, several schools (South Carolina for one) went 7 home games one year, 8 the next. If the vast majority of major program schools are playing at least 7 home games, choosing to play only 6 could be extremely detrimental to the program. It could cost several millions of dollars. And for every dollar that doesn't come into the program, that's one less dollar that could've been spent on improving facilities, recruiting a wide base of potential players, or retaining top quality coaching staffs. If South Carolina is going to play 3 more home games every two years than Georgia, and with Williams-Brice bringing in millions to the program at every home game, that could mean that the Gamecocks can afford to upgrade their weight room, or indoor practice facility, or make that extra trip to California to recruit that top QB, or sweeten the deal to make it worthwhile for a top defensive coordinator to switch schools. If I were an athletic director at a school playing big time college football, I know I wouldn't want a neighbor and rival to have that kind of an advantage. And shaming schools into playing on the road more hasn't worked in the past. So it seems clear to me that the market will control, and under a 12 game regular season, schools will have to play at least 7 home games each year to keep pace with other major programs.

What that means for Georgia is that it would be economically unsound to have home and home series with Georgia Tech, Clemson and a neutral site game in Jacksonville as well as home and home series against a top opponent like Michigan. So my ideal is just that, idealistic. To compromise, at least one of four things must happen: A) The game in Jacksonville will eventually give way to home games; B) We don't go home and home every year with Clemson; C) We don't play top opponents home and home; or D) We don't play a weaker opponent at home every year. A is unlikely to happen, and would be my least acceptable choice. B) I would prefer not to happen, but I think it's reasonable. I just wish that we'd play Clemson at least 6 times every decade. D) also isn't likely, since I think at least one "functional bye" is acceptable for any team in the country, especially when playing a BCS conference schedule. So that leaves us C. As I said above, I think there's merit in playing a quality opponent OOC. And I'd include Clemson among quality opponents. My suggestion would be that we play Clemson 6 out of every 10 years (3 home, 3 away), and for the four years in every decade when we do not play Clemson, we substitute for the Tigers a top quality opponent (by that, I mean an upper-echelon BCS conference team - like Michigan). I think that's a reasonable compromise and would consider economic realities, tradition and the excitement generated by playing top quality opponents.

So I do support Kyle King's movement to get a game between the Dawgs and Wolverines. I'd also like for us to schedule Clemson regularly as well. And if not Michigan, I'd love to see home/homes against other great traditional programs when we can. I'd like to see the Dawgs play Miami, Oklahoma, Texas, Penn State, Notre Dame, Iowa (yes, I consider them a top program until Kirk Ferentz leaves), Nebraska, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, USC, Ohio State, etc. These are all places that, if the hype is right, would garner big time national attention. So I say we don't limit the movement to Michigan. Let's suggest a host of top teams.