College football leans less towards neutral site games

Image for article titled It's Time for College Football to Stop Relying So Much on Neutral Site Games

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In recent years, the NCAA has saved the best Week 1 college football games for neutral sites – mostly NFL stadiums.

Last season kicked off with a big game between Georgia and Clemson at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, home of the Carolina Panthers. But viewership is down from the 2022 opening match between Notre Dame and Ohio State, broadcast at “The Horseshoe” – attracted 10.5 million viewers.

Both games were a clash between the top five teams, but the latter also beat every game on the 2022 calendar Week 1 and is ESPN’s Most Watched regular season game on its networks since 2017, according to the World Wide Leader.

However, it only took a week for another college football game to come out on top in television ratings. Then stand at number 1 Alabama goes to Austin to face Texas for a noon EST game. Although the Longhorns are not in the Top 25, this game is still the aforementioned best First match between Fighting Irish and Buckeyes – and pledge Texas Arch Manning is still in high school.

Everyone spoke up. They like college football being played on campus, not at Jerry World or the Citrus Bowl. For conference titles, bowl games and National Championships, neutral sites are fine. But for years, college football has reintroduced people to its product without the key element – home-field advantage.

Sans the rabid school spirit from the student section, college football truly is an amateur product. Extra points from the traditional line get missed, footballs sail backward, defensive backs end up 30 yards behind wide receivers, and most quarterbacks are not capable of leading their teams by relying on the forward pass. All of this while the games take significantly more time than they do in the NFL with the clock stoppages after every first down, and also longer halftimes.

Why watch this lesser product? The fans are a much more significant part of the show than they are in the NFL. The fans in Seattle rained down boos all night on Monday when Russell Wilson returned to town, but the intensity still didn’t match what it was at “The Swap” when Utah threw that late interception to give Florida the victory in Week 1.

Those are the moments that make college sports, especially football, an outstanding viewing experience. Auburn’s “Kick Six” against Alabama; Texas Tech taking down No. 1 Texas with Michael Crabtree’s last-second touchdown catch; any of Florida State’s missed kicks against Miami; that mega-pop from the crowd after it has been roaring all day almost leaves the viewer a bit winded from the intensity of the game.

There were a couple of big-time neutral site games in Week 1, but they were Georgia vs. Oregon at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta and LSU vs. Florida State at the Superdome in New Orleans. I’m sure the Ducks, who were blown out, 49-3, and the Seminoles — 24-23 victors — did not feel that the environment was neutral.

The opening weeks of the 2022 college football season have been spectacular, and yes the wacky plays are fun to watch, but without the screaming student sections, it’s really just second-rate football.

Home and homes for out-of-conference from now on college football. The passionate crowds are part of what makes the sport special.

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