March 15, 2008

Roundtable: Are neutral-site games good?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a specific topic from the past week in college football.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Arkansas and Texas A&M recently signed a 10-year deal to play annually at a neutral site. What's your feeling on neutral-site games? And if you like them, is there one matchup you'd like to see played each season at a neutral site?
Olin Buchanan
Growing up in the Dallas area, I know that Texas-Oklahoma weekend (OU-Texas if you're from the other side of the Red River) was more than just a game it was a true event.

Any game day Saturday in autumn is exciting, but a neutral-site game matching high-quality opponents just adds to the atmosphere.

The best elements for a neutral-site game would be to match traditional powers (preferably with some history between them) and large fan bases willing to travel. They would need to play in a fertile recruiting area, and in a city that has a great stadium but not a huge college football influence.

Also, that city should be almost a vacation destination.

Under those guidelines, I'd suggest Oklahoma against LSU in San Antonio. Those are programs that previously have played for a national championship, recruit well in Texas and meeting about halfway in a city that offers a lot to do.

And just to counter that, Texas and Tennessee both orange, both claiming to be the UT could meet in New Orleans, where their fans could have a great time and their programs could enhance their recruiting opportunities in Louisiana.

By the same token, Nebraska against Michigan (they shared the '97 national championship) in Chicago or St. Louis also would be a great neutral-site event.

David Fox
I suppose I'm in favor of anything that matches up strong teams from power conferences, but neutral-site games before bowl season never seem right unless the Red River or a Cocktail Party are involved. As it is, there are too few regular-season games between marquee teams. If you doubt that, look at most teams' schedules around Aug. 30 and homecoming. Though Arkansas wasn't near the title picture, look at the Hogs' schedule: eight home games and non-conference games against Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga and Florida International. (Granted, Arkansas is not one of the worst offenders when it comes to patsy schedules after the Hogs faced USC the previous two seasons and plays at Texas this season.)

Administrators will say neutral-site games help schools connect with alumni in metro areas. Coaches say they help build inroads for recruiting purposes. Baloney. Neutral site games are more a way for programs to avoid a home-and-home series, or more specifically the road half of the series, which means less money in the pockets of the university and a greater chance for a loss.

Unless Texas A&M and Arkansas intend for this 10-year series to turn into a permanent tradition, a la Florida-Georgia or Texas-Oklahoma, just suck it up, play a home-and-home and leave the sterile off-campus games to the bowls.

Mike Huguenin
Neutral-site series are a great idea. The crowd is split down the middle and excited, and if you pick the right teams for a series, the atmosphere will take care of itself.

How about these two:

Illinois-Missouri in St. Louis: This should be an annual event. Fans bases for both live in and around St. Louis. It could be the college event of the season. Too bad you couldn't double-up and play the Illinois-Mizzou basketball game the night before in St, Louis, too.

North Carolina-South Carolina in Charlotte: Again, a lot of fans from both schools can make the easy trek to Charlotte, and it would be the college football event of the season in the area, blowing away the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Steve Megargee
Nothing beats the atmosphere of a partisan crowd creating a true home-field advantage, but the interest surrounding the annual Georgia-Florida and Oklahoma-Texas showdowns proves there is a place for a limited number of neutral-site games. The right kind of matchup can create a bowl-type environment during the heart of the regular season.

The key is to have schools from different leagues that are close enough geographically to form a natural rivalry, even if a conference title's not at stake whenever they play. And, of course, both schools have to enjoy large enough followings to help fill a stadium miles from their respective campuses each year. After all, when we say we want to create a bowl environment, we're not talking about the International Bowl.

One potential neutral-site game we'd like to see is a return of the Pittsburgh-Penn State game, perhaps at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. We'll admit that Philadelphia has far more Penn State alums than Pitt grads and that Lincoln Financial Field is much closer to Penn State than it is to the Pitt campus but we're guessing Pitt fans would love seeing the return of this series so much that they'd have no problem filling their half of the stadium.

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