Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tigers Surrender

I must admit I was genuinely surprised to see LSU agree to this home-and-home deal. I am not as crazy happy as most folks- put me square in the "I am okay with it" camp. I simply don’t think this series is important to Tulane anymore- or at least as it was in the 50’s- when it was part and parcel of being a program with national ambitions. The two schools don’t compete for the same style recruits anymore- so the idea that the head-to-head result swings any recruiting battles in nonsense. I don’t think Tulane can beat them- and I rather see us schedule games the kids can win. If we can play Navy home and home get 35,000 at Gormley, is it really worth playing LSU for 45,000? Does Tulane really get that much more out of playing them anymore?

Still, people are excited. And there are definite pluses. The upside for Tulane in this deal is obvious. The Louisiana State football community can rant and pout and point to their fees & guarantees- but it is all nonsense and smoke-screen. Even with fees and guarantees, Pitt doesn’t get home and home with Penn State. Leaving the Big East, Boston College won’t get recipricocity from Notre Dame any more. Rice get home and home with Texas? The superfluous tickets mean zero. Tulane wasn’t going to sell them for Rice anyway and LSU could sell more at their own building. No, if you think playing LSU is important to our program, this is a good deal for the Wave.

Regardless, AD Rick deserves a lot of credit. For those of you who think Tulane football is run sans intelligence rather than by grown ups, he has now demonstrably done two very smart things- particularly in light of our disastrous negotiating position with LSU in the past.

First, Rick created a non-negotiable line on scheduling with LSU and stuck to it. He agreed to play now and then, on terms certainly advantageous to the Tigers, but refused a long term commitment without a one-for-one. Second, he built a pretty successful out of conference game scheduling strategy. I was at the last two LSU games in the Dome- both had announced crowds around 35,000- and I guarantee you that count was high. I doubt either game cracked 30K. If they did, it was not by much. But Rick has repeatedly demonstrated he can beat or come close to that that kind of number- both with a shrewd “local” opponent promotion and a game here and there in the Park. So when LSU came calling, they knew Rick had proven a baseline competency of putting 35,000 people in the seats for out of conference games with opponents visiting either every year or every other year. Unless the Tigers were willing to match that, by coming to New Orleans regularly and giving the Wave a chance to sell 35,000 tickets, they could excuse themselves and call North Texas or Appalachian State*. It is not a crazy amount of leverage- but it is more than we had in 1994- and it apparently was enough to get the Tigers here every other year.

Again, I was never all that crazy about restoring this game. The LSU series really only has value to our program if we get the Tigers to New Orleans. Since the Tigers are, I am pretty happy with it. Ultimately, home games build programs, market season tickets and give exposure. Playing road games for money does not. Television and home games are the two foundations for growing programs- get on TV and fill the stands.

The LSU side of this deal is the more intriguing- why they would agree to give Tulane these games- rather than take their traditional approach of reaching out for ten straight home games alternating with Troy and Arkansas State? I think if you took Skip out for some whiskey, got him deep into his cups, he would tell you two things:

First, not all college kids can play thirteen games at the SEC level. LSU enters each year with a commitment to play nine BCS-level schools (eight in the SEC and a probable bowl). So while playing Arkansas State achieves the “just win baby without effort” goal, Tulane brings some buzz without really being a threat. Second, four uninteresting out of conference games are a bit much for the home folks to swallow year after year. So the Tigers push one out every other year, play it semi-local in a location that has fluoride and has whipped rickets, and ensure they possess enough of the responsibility for the gate that the event is only a minor loss in terms of opportunity cost.

* oops, it appears they do that already.