Ron Morris

July 21, 2014

Morris: Fans can expect a pricey playoff

FOR THOSE SOUTH Carolina and Clemson football fans pining for their team’s inclusion in the new College Football Playoffs, you might want to begin growing your savings account.

To follow your favorite team through its league championship game, the semifinals of the playoffs and the national championship is going to cost you a small fortune.

It is the one major drawback to college football going to a four-team playoff this season: The average fan likely has been eliminated from attending all of his or her team’s games in the postseason.

“Of course, there has to be concerns about that,” said Michael Kelly, chief operating officer for the College Football Playoff, the recently formed group that will oversee the four-team tournament. “It’s hard for anyone to do, and to think about going to all three (games).”

Should USC or Clemson play in their respective league title games and also make the playoffs and advance to the national championship game, their fans would be asked to open their wallets like never before in the postseason. By adding a game to the postseason, fans could expect to spend as much as $5,000 per person to attend all three games.

You have to wonder at some point how many fans would be able to afford that kind of expense and time commitment. More likely, the average fan would decide to attend one of the postseason games. Some might choose to attend the conference title game, others might want to hold out and attend only the national championship game, if their team advances that far.

Whatever the choice, it is going to be expensive. Very expensive.

On Monday, Kelly walked members of the media at the ACC Football Kickoff meetings through three seasons of how the College Football Playoff selection committee would possibly slot teams into the four-team playoffs and the four remaining major bowls.

Kelly took a recent final Associated Press Top 25 poll to use as a model rankings for selection in the upcoming postseason. Understand, it was completely hypothetical. The top four teams in those rankings were Ohio State, Florida, Michigan and LSU. In New Year’s Day games, No. 1- seed Ohio State would face No. 4-seed LSU in the Rose Bowl. No. 2-seed Florida would face No. 3-seed Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.

The semifinal winners then would square off at the Dallas Cowboys stadium on Jan. 12 for the national championship. Under this scenario, Florida fans would have the best chance of following their team because the Gators likely would play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6 in Atlanta, followed three weeks later by the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and 12 days later in the title game in Dallas.

The worst-case scenario belonged to LSU. Its fan base would be asked to travel to Atlanta, followed by a trip to Pasadena, Calif., then on to Dallas. Airfare, lodging, food and game tickets would drive the cost of those three trips into the thousands.

All of this could have been avoided by following the FCS and NCAA Division II playoff models where home fields –other than the national championship game – are awarded to higher-seed teams. Kelly said that was a consideration early in the playoffs discussions, but it would have created too much of a home field advantage and would have detracted from the existing bowl system.

Kelly also said fans of the programs involved in the playoffs were a primary concern in the distribution of tickets and for ticket pricing. Under the old system, each school was required to purchase 17,500 tickets for the BCS championship game. Programs easily sold that allotment and generally could not meet the demand for tickets.

Beginning this year, participating programs will be allotted 12,500 tickets for the semifinal games at a cost that will be capped at $175 each. Each program also will be allotted 1,000 student tickets to be sold at half that price.

For the championship game, this year at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the two participating programs will be allotted 50 percent of the stadium’s approximately 100,000 seats. So, essentially, each program will purchase 25,000 tickets at $450 each, and will purchase 1,000 student tickets at half that price. The programs then will sell those tickets to their fans.

Kelly said ticket prices for previous BCS championship games ranged from $350 to $400, and he saw the jump this year as a “modest increase.”

Modest increase or not, it is an expensive ticket, and one additional expense that likely will price the average fan out of the market for attending playoff games.

Fans will continue to clap and shout in support of their teams to advance to the postseason. Once there, their loyalty likely will shift from their lungs to their hands securely on their wallets.

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