Why aren't students going to football games any more?
Here's the bad news: your school is having serious trouble getting students to show up on time - if at all. Now here's the good news: you're not alone. Far from it. In many cases, the biggest schools in college football are the ones having the toughest time getting students to show up.
According to a report from ESPN, only 3,773 of a possible 9,000 students seats were filled for the second half kickoff of Arizona's upset of Oregon last November. Twenty-six percent of Michigan's student ticket holders didn't make it inside the gates this season. Georgia reduced its student section by nearly 2,000 seats, and nearly 30 percent of those ticket holders still no-showed.
ESPN reached out to students across the nation for their reasons for staying home.
"People would rather stay at fraternity houses with unlimited food, booze and a big-screen TV than make the trek to the stadium," North Carolina student Thomas Doochin said. "Phone service is terrible during games and it's hard to stay in touch with the world for the three hours you're in the stadium."
"The routine is the exact same as it was the first game of my freshman year," said Nebraska student Bryce Maher. "The exact same warmup songs at the same time in every game. Even the tunnel walk has gotten stale after being there for a couple seasons. I believe the university needs to try some new rituals, get some new traditions. At a place that covets tradition, as much as any fan base in the country, a change is needed."
Personally, those sound like lame excuses to me. But like football enough to get a job writing for a football website.
The most common answer was that the opportunity cost of attending a game was too high. Many kids would rather miss a game in person than miss three hours of text, tweets and other games on TV. The NFL is wrestling with the same issue, albeit with an older clientele. If a fan thinks they can get more value watching a game from behind a (television or smartphone) screen than with their own eyes, how can you convince them otherwise?
Many schools start their sales pitches on students as soon as they get on campus, if not before. "We spend a great amount of time in the summer and the fall working on the freshman," Miami associate athletics director Chris Freet said. "We want them to understand that athletics is a big part of college life at Miami and make sure that their first experiences are entertaining. If you get off on the right foot, hopefully they become a fan and matriculate to a season-ticket-holder after graduation."
The most common answer has been to turn the stadium into one big living room. The Big Ten has made a concerted effort to boost the wireless experience inside its own stadiums, and the Big 12 has started showing in-game highlights of other conference games inside its own stadiums. Of course, Nebraska recently dumped $12 million into Memorial Stadium's in part to improve its wireless capabilities, only to be told its traditions were too monotonous.
This empty-seat plague is one that stretches across regions, divisions and conferences. Athletics administrators aren't exactly sure how, when and why this became a problem, but they're in agreement that they need to find a solution.
"We have to solve this because we are talking about the season ticket-holders of tomorrow," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "But interests and attitudes are changing so rapidly it's not easy to quickly identify what we need to do."
Manziel's story of his HS coach at the Heisman ceremony is a brilliant reminder
During Johnny Manziel's Heisman acceptance speech in 2012, he took the time to thank all the usual people that played a role in his success, as all award winners typically do. That included his teammates, his parents, grandparents, and his college and high school coaches.
None of that was out of the ordinary for a Heisman speech. All those people contributed to the type of electric player that Manziel became in one way or another. But only one of those people he mentioned played the type of role capable of making him break down in a room crowded with past Heisman winners...his high school offensive coordinator at Kerrville Tivy HS (TX), Julius Scott.
As the Ultimate Texans blog points out, Manziel told a story during a dinner last week that should serve as a great reminder to high school coaches out there.
After giving his speech, hoisting the Heisman, and shaking the hands of past winners, Manziel made his way up to the Heisman suite. There, he saw his old offensive coordinator, and the same player that had stoically shredded SEC defenses all season as a freshman lost control of his emotions.
“After I won the Heisman, I was cool and calm and didn’t lose my emotions until I got to the top floor and the Heisman suite,” Manziel explained at the dinner. “Coach Scott was there. When I saw him, I just lost it. I bawled my eyes out right there."
“I told him, ‘I would never have been here without you.’ His shirt was soaking wet when I pulled away.”
That's some powerful stuff.
After the biggest moment of his athletic career, and maybe his entire life, Manziel didn't cry in the midst of his college coaches like Kevin Sumlin or Kliff Kingsbury, it was his high school coach that brought out the most heart-wrenchingly honest reaction.
That's a nice reminder of the role that you play in the lives of your players. Regardless of whether they go on to win the Heisman, or work as the bagger at the local grocery store living in their parent's basement, you hold a position of monumental influence in their lives.
Every once in a while, a reminder like such as Manziel's is needed.
Mike Ekeler's fascinating first-hand account on the life of an assistant
Mike Ekeler is from David City, Nebraska. After playing his college ball at Kansas State, Ekeler's coaching career began at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha. After climbing the coaching ladder at Oklahoma and LSU, his first full-time job came as the linebackers coach at Nebraska. In 2011, Ekeler left his dream job for another dream job, as Indiana's defensive coordinator. Two years later, he was coaching linebackers at USC, where the Trojans' tilt-a-whirl 2013 season left out of a job despite a wonderfully successful season considering the extraordinary circumstances.
Ekeler provided a letter to the Journal Star detailing his travels since leaving Nebraska and the scramble that led him to land a job as Georgia's inside linebackers coach. It's a fascinating peek inside the world of a major college assistant. We're not going to post the full letter - which may be found here - but here are a few excerpts.
On leaving Nebraska for the Indiana defensive coordinator job:
Dec. 24th, 2010, was one of the hardest days of my life. We had our last bowl practice in Lincoln and it was the day I told our LB group (Will Compton, Sean Fisher, Lavonte David, Alonzo Whaley, Matt May and pseudo assistant coach Blake Lawrence) that I was leaving. After practice we gathered in our LB group and I broke the news, at least tried to break the news. I couldn't talk, I just started crying and looked up and the whole group was crying. When you leave a dream job, you leave for one reason, and that is to grow both as a person and as a coach.
On learning that he would not be retained at USC:
Dec. 4th, I was sitting in my office game-planning for our bowl game and noticed who I thought was Peter Sirmon (Sark's LB coach from Washington). He was in the office across the hall filling out H.R. paperwork. I walked over and introduced myself as the "former LBs coach at USC." I ended up meeting with Sark the next day and told him if he hadn’t brought his defensive coaches from UW, I wouldn’t have respected him or wanted to work for him. During the next three weeks, I became friends with all the new coaches. It was unusual. We shared our offices and they watched the bowl practices. Dec. 21 we won our bowl game, and I'm officially on the street.
On using his old contacts, especially ones at Nebraska, to get his new job at Georgia:
Video: The 4 bottom lines of the Mizzou program
Pat Ivey, FootballScoop's 2013 Strength and Conditioning Coordinator of the Year, runs you through their speed station portion of their "Winning Edge Program" here in this clip.
After touching on the goals of the speed station, which is part of a three station approach that they do on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the off season, Ivey talks about the four bottom lines of the Missouri program, which include;
1) Be enthusiastic
2) Be a six second competitor
3) Know your assignment
4) Play tough and physical
From just this two minute video, you can tell that #1 is constantly stressed, and that should come as no surprise to people that watch Gary Pinkel's teams fly around, making plays on game day.
Perfecting that approach and driving home that message starts in the off season with the strength staff, as Ivey and his staff show here.
Video: NAIA program's chaotic Valentines Day Massacre workout
Southern Oregon, one of the top NAIA offenses year after year recently, paired up with their campus ROTC program to take over the programs annual "Valentines Day Massacre" workout.
We hear from the staff that this workout put the players through hell. The first 20 minutes of the workout were made up of absolute no-win situations. As you can tell, the workout environment was absolute chaos and players were going back and forth from one environment to the next being yelled at, and having to find their jerseys in an environment that was just nuts.
The next hour and a half of the workout was team based competitions that included tire pushes, car pushes, carrying teammates in stretchers around the track, running with a full pack on, and shooting paintball guns.
Every off season a handful of program do something like this, but this looks like an absolutely grueling pairing. But for the players, it was a great way to break up the monotony, test individual and team limits, and build camaraderie.
How push-up contests helped turn Stanford around
When Jim Harbaugh took over the Stanford program back in 2007, the program needed a culture change. One of Harbaugh's assistant at that time was Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, who served as the assistant head coach / defensive coordinator that inaugural season.
In a Q&A released earlier today, Shafer talked about how Jim Harbaugh doing push-ups during team stretches helped to start the process of changing the mindset of a team that had spent years at the bottom of the conference.
Shafer explains that right before practice, as players were going through warm ups and stretching, Harbaugh would go out in front of everyone and start doing push-ups, and since Shafer and Harbaugh were on different sides of the ball, they naturally talked trash to each other throughout the day and especially at practice.
"We were trying to foster that environment because the Stanford kids were the opposite of a lot of other kids at that time." Shafer explained. "They were downtrodden and hadn't won many games. They were almost too, "Yes sir, no sir." We were like, Hey, we've got to get these kids to loosen up.
As a staff, they structured practices where everything revolved around competing. To no one's surprise, sometimes Harbaugh would even get in on a contact drill with no pads on to amp up the energy.
One day, while Harbaugh was doing his push-ups, a player asked to Shafer, "Coach, are you going to let him do that? He's trying to show you up doing push-ups." Shafer says he then ran up next to Harbaugh and started pumping out his own. They started off at 25 and added one every day. By the end of the season they were "150 of the worst push-ups you ever saw".
While there is a ton more that goes into turning around a program than that, it's a great testament to Harbaugh and Shafer as coaches. They recognized what the program, and the kids needed at the time, and weren't afraid to get their hands dirty and do something ridiculous to get things rolling.
D-III program illustrates "Who they are" with this music/video combo
Sometimes the music choice for a highlight video can elevate the clip to a whole new level.
That's what Mount St. Joseph (D-III - OH) does with this highlight video. It shows recruits and their families what their football program is all about through the highlights and carefully selected song lyrics.
Nothing super fancy here, but it clearly does an excellent job of getting the point across to the intended audience.
Here's my favorite excerpt: "We're bad news. We're the young guns. We're the ones that they told you to run from." And that's just within the first 15 seconds.
Nebraska allocated 'more resources than ever' to recruiting in 2013-2014
According to Rivals, Nebraska signed the #32 class in the country, including four 4 star athletes and fourteen 3 stars among their 24 recruit haul. An additional 18 players are due to walk on, which is impressive standing on its own.
In his "Connecting on Campus" column, athletic director Shawn Eichorst explained their general approach to recruiting as "providing our coaches and staff all the resources, support and facilities reasonably necessary to recruit, retain and graduate the best and brightest student-athletes." As a head coach, those words coming from your AD have to be music to your ears. I'm sure Bo Pelini agrees.
This past year the Husker athletic department provided the most recruiting resources ever, in the entire history of the Nebraska football program. On signing day Pelini publicly thanked Eichorst and the athletic department for supplying private planes that allowed them to finish off the 2014 class strong and get a kick start of the 2015 class.
Eichorst added that, moving forward, they plan to add a number of additional full-time staff members assigned specifically to recruiting. A lot of programs, namely in the SEC have assigned similar roles within the football department, and the results have definitely paid. A total of seven SEC teams are represented within the top ten of Rivals' team recruiting rankings (Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida, Auburn). Eichorst said that those recruiting support positions will be posted in the fall.
"Even though it’s extremely difficult to compare apples-to-apples, we are proud that our overall allocation of resources for recruiting consistently ranks among the best in the Big Ten Conference as well as nationally." Eichorst added. "Bottom line, we will continue to do what is reasonably necessary to put our programs in position to graduate our student-athletes and to compete for both conference and national championships.”
With the recruiting support positions yet to be filled, and Nebraska having to travel extended distances to get their coaches in front of the nation's top talent, expect Eichorst to have a similar "we spent more than ever" message next year.