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A reminder that spring game attendance is useless, but some schools love it

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The spring football game or scrimmage season is underway with Duke getting in a spring scrimmage in Durham on Saturday. Illinois also hosted an open practice for fans. With the first taste of spring football on our hands, it is time to dive head first into the spring football attendance conversation for the 2017 season. But to sum things up before continuing, remember that spring football is not held in a uniform regard from conference to conference or program to program. The numbers clearly show that.

Over the past three years, I have taken the liberty of tracking spring football game attendance figures out of pure curiosity. What I have learned from the past three years is not exactly all that shocking. Big time programs tend to see a higher interest in spring football, which leads to a higher interest in spring football games and scrimmages, which in turn leads to higher attendance figures. Last year, Ohio State set a national spring game record by drawing over 100,000 fans to its spring football game. Georgia impressed everyone with its spring draw with over 90,000 fans showing up for a unique experience complete with a concert, topping perennial SEC spring game attendance champion contender Alabama in the process. Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Auburn continued to be among the nation’s leaders in spring game attendance with their usual big crowds. The same cannot be said for programs from the Group of Five, obviously, but even among the power conferences it is statistically clear the Big Ten and SEC are playing on a different playing field in the spring game attendance game compared to the Big 12 and Pac-12. The ACC tends to straddle the line.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when the spring game attendance numbers start to come together…

Not every school bothers to track attendance

In truth, most of the spring game numbers that are reported are actually estimates. That or it is an incredible coincidence that so many schools see an attendance figure that ends with a zero. In the three years I have tracked these numbers, Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Texas are the power conference programs that have not reported or supplied a spring attendance figure for one reason or another. A large number of Group of Five programs do not track attendance figures either. Each school has their own philosophy in place over such a thing, so it is not at all shocking to see a good number of schools not pay extra care and scrutiny to such a figure.

Some games or scrimmages will not be played in a stadium

Sometimes a school will take its spring scrimmage outside of the typical home stadium, which means the attendance maximum will potentially be significantly lower than usual. Arizona State played its spring scrimmage on a soccer field last year. Notre Dame Stadium renovations forced the Fighting Irish to hold its spring scrimmage on a non-traditional field in 2015, resulting in a crowd of just 3,590 compared to crowds of over 27,000 in 2014 and 2016 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Stadium renovations are often the main reason a power conference program will move its spring game to a different venue, but that is not always the case. Not having access to a home football stadium also comes into play. Temple and Pittsburgh have each played their spring scrimmage on a practice field or a high school field in recent years, for example. Part of the reason may be having to fund a lowly-attended spring game in an NFL stadium. It’s just not worth it.

Texas A&M didn’t hold a spring game for two years (2014 and 2015) due to ongoing renovations at Kyle Field and an inability to figure out an alternative location that would comply with SEC spring game rules.

Weather can also be a factor

Some games get rained out. Some fans choose not to put up with the weather for a spring game.

Every school treats it spring game differently

Schools like Nebraska, Alabama, Auburn, Penn State and Ohio State have used their spring game to be the focus of an entire weekend or community event by making it a pretty big deal over years. Alabama lets fans run on the field for autographs. Penn State has a fair atmosphere outside the stadium. Some schools charge admission. Some schools simply open the doors and let the fans come and go as they please. There is no one way to handle a spring game. All of these different mechanics play into how the game is seen by fans.

In 2015, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio made it a point to have more fans than ever attend the Michigan State spring game. It almost worked, but it would be another year (and a Big Ten title) before Michigan State hit the 50,000 mark. Michigan experimented with making the spring game a Friday night event. It worked, although it struggled to match the buzz over the first spring game with Jim Harbaugh the previous year. Georgia organized an elaborate concert event around the spring game and led the SEC in attendance.

Schools will continue trying new and innovative ways to make the spring game something fans want to flock to, while others will treat it as nothing more than an afterthought. For example, are you surprised Wisconsin has failed to draw 10,000 fans each of the past three years? Considering how successful Wisconsin has been, that may seem odd to you, but Wisconsin simply doesn’t treat its spring game as much of anything at all.

Who will be the spring game champions of 2017?

It goes without saying the Big Ten and SEC will be the dominating forces in the spring game attendance standings. With the biggest stadiums and some of the top annual spring draws between them, nobody will stand much of a chance to keep the pace. Eight of the top 10 spring game attendances were seen in the Big Ten or SEC in 2016. The two outliers were Florida State and Clemson of the ACC. Both the Seminoles and Tigers appear to go against the grain compared to the rest o the ACC, although Virginia Tech was right in the mix last year.

Speaking of Clemson, the defending national champions are one of a small handful of power conference teams to see an increase of spring game attendance each of the past two years (Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan State, and USC are the others) during this ongoing three-year research. Coming off a national championship, it would not be a stretch to think Clemson may see another year of increased attendance this spring, weather pending. The past two College Football Playoff national champions (Alabama and Ohio State) each saw a higher spring attendance compared to the previous season before winning the national title.

We’ll update the spring game attendance records throughout the spring, so stay tuned to see how it all plays out this year. Spring attendance numbers are good for PR purposes and gives some fans one more thing to brag about in the offseason.

Iowa loses RB James Butler ‘at least through the bye’

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Iowa sat Akrum Wadley for much of Saturday’s 31-14 win over North Texas after he was flagged for a (frankly ridiculous) excessive celebration penalty for high-stepping his way to the Kinnick Stadium end zone. (The score was wiped off the board, but Iowa completed the drive with a touchdown anyway.) The Hawkeyes will have no choice but to give him carries now.

Running back James Butler (20) has injured an elbow that will keep him out for the next few weeks.

“I think James will be out through the bye week,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said, via Hawkeye Report. “It will be a couple of weeks before we get him back.”

A Nevada transfer with two 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, Butler was a graduate transfer addition to the Hawkeyes, announcing his transfer on July 4. He ranks second on the club with 36 carries for 158 yards thus far in 2017, carrying a season-high 16 times for 74 yards before the injury.

Butler’s carries figure to go to fellow senior Wadley and freshmen Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. Wadley leads the club with 60 carries for 258 yards and a touchdown, and Young and Kelly-Martin have combined to rush 30 times for 152 yards and two scores. Young made his debut in Wadley’s absence in the second half Saturday, rushing 19 times for 78 yards.

The 3-0 Hawkeyes host No. 4 Penn State on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), then visit undefeated Michigan State the week after (4 p.m. ET, FOX). Iowa will host Illinois before its Oct. 14 bye week.

Lincoln Riley to earn $3.1 million a year as OU head coach

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Lincoln Riley won’t be paid nearly as much as Bob Stoops was as Oklahoma’s head coach, but he’ll earn significantly more than he did as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.

Oklahoma approved and released Riley’s new deal on Tuesday, a 5-year contract that pays him $3.1 million annually and rises $200,000 a year. Stoops made $5.5 million in his last season, according to USA Today, while Riley earned $900,000 as offensive coordinator.

Perks include 25 hours of private airplane use, not one but two private golf club membership, and bonuses ranging from $25,000 for winning Big 12 coach of the year honors to $250,000 for a national championship.

Riley is 3-0 in his young tenure, already proving himself to be a tremendous bargain for the Sooners.

SEC releases 2018 schedule

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The SEC released its 2018 slate on Tuesday, beginning the weekend of Sept. 1 and running through the SEC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 1. It would be entirely pointless to break down winners and losers of the ’18 slate considering we don’t really even know who’s good yet in 2017 — other than Alabama — and we especially don’t know who will be good in ’18 — other than ‘Bama, of course.

But we can point out some dates that look interesting as we sit here on Tuesday, Sept. 19, the year of our Lord 2017. And, no, intra-divisional games don’t count, since they are played every year.

  • Auburn vs. Washington — Sept. 1 (at Atlanta)
  • Alabama vs. Louisville — Sept. 1 (at Orlando)
  • LSU vs. Miami — Sept. 1 (at Dallas)
  • Tennessee vs. West Virginia (at Charlotte)
  • Clemson at Texas A&M — Sept. 8
  • Vanderbilt at Notre Dame — Sept. 15
  • Florida at Mississippi State — Sept. 29
  • Tennessee at Auburn — Oct. 13

Consult the full schedule here. 

Louisville-Ole Miss 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff opener made official

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After reports had signaled it, it’s a done deal.

The “it” in this case is Louisville opening the 2021 season against Ole Miss, with the two programs confirming Tuesday that they will square off in one of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff games that year.  The game will be played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, although a date and kickoff time are still to be determined.

The 2021 game will mark the first-ever meeting between the football teams.  Each has made one previous appearance in the Kickoff Game, Louisville in 2015 (31-24 loss to Auburn) and Ole Miss in 2014 (35-13 win over Boise State).

“To have the opportunity to play in this game again for the second time is a huge win for our program,” Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement. “We are honored to be welcomed back by the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, which is a tremendous testament to our loyal fan base, who helped pack the stadium in 2015. Our fans have a great history of traveling, and to have the opportunity to play a great program like Ole Miss in this brand-new facility will certainly be a hot ticket for the fans. Gary Stokan and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl group do a tremendous job with this game and we appreciate them selecting Louisville for what has become the premier game to kick off the season.”

“We are thrilled to once again be part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. We always set the goal to end the regular season in Atlanta, so it’s only fitting that’s where we begin it,” Jurich’s Ole Miss counterpart, Ross Bjork, said in his. “With our strong alumni base in Georgia, Rebel Nation will arrive in full force to experience this premier matchup in the nation’s finest new stadium. In addition, the Atlanta market is a key recruiting area for our staff, and this trip offers a tremendous opportunity to compete in front of those prospects.”

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Alabama and Miami would square off in the other Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game the opening weekend of the 2021 season.