Alabama Crimson Tide: Mike Slive

SEC's attendance numbers rise in 2013

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
9:00
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While attendance across the country might be getting spottier at college football games, the SEC’s numbers increased in 2013.

That’s after the league experienced a slight dip each of the four seasons prior to 2013.

One of the things to remember about the SEC is that the stadiums are huge. A stadium on the “smaller” side in this league still holds more than 60,000 people, and eight of the 14 schools play in on-campus stadiums with a seating capacity of more than 80,000.

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina Gamecocks fans
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina averaged 82,401 fans in its seven home games in 2013, which ranked 14th in the FBS.
Last season, the SEC averaged 75,674 fans, up from 74,636 in 2012. These figures, provided by the SEC office, include the Jacksonville, Fla., game between Florida and Georgia as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta between Auburn and Missouri.

Even more telling, all but two of the schools in the league topped 90 percent attendance last season. The average percentage capacity in 2013 for SEC games was 99.02 percent, compared to 97.40 percent in 2012.

Alabama, coming off back-to-back national championships, led the SEC in home attendance last season, averaging 101,505 fans.

Kentucky (20 percent) and Tennessee (6 percent) had the largest increases in attendance last season. Arkansas (9 percent) had the largest decrease.

And while attendance was up this season in the SEC, it’s not as if league officials and athletic directors at the different schools had their collective heads in the sand.

The 2012 attendance figures for the SEC were the conference's lowest since the 2007 season, which was disconcerting to everybody.

So at the SEC spring meetings last May in Destin, Fla., it was announced that the league had created a committee in charge of making the game-day experience more enticing for fans.

High-definition televisions are getting better all the time, and there’s something to be said for sitting in the comfort of your home theater (or den) and watching all of the games there instead of going to the trouble or the expense of getting to the games in person.

SEC officials and administrators agree that with technology improving and ticket prices rising, in some cases exorbitantly, fans aren’t going to blindly keep going to games unless there’s something unique about the game-day experience.

[+] EnlargeAuburn Tigers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWith an average of 85,657 fans at its eight home games in 2013, Auburn ranked No. 12 in the FBS.
Among the things the SEC committee addressed were finding a way to improve cell phone and wireless service at the stadiums, making more replays on the big screens available, dealing with the secondary ticket market, and improving the overall quality of games.

To the latter, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has said he wants to see every school in the league play at least 10 “good games” every season, whether that’s nine conference games and a marquee nonconference game, or eight conference games and two marquee nonconference games.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, a proponent of playing nine conference games, also has been outspoken that fans aren’t going to continue going to games to watch glorified scrimmages.

One of the biggest problems all schools in the SEC face is student attendance. Last season, Saban famously chastised the students at Alabama for leaving games early.

The Alabama student newspaper, The Crimson White, conducted a study and determined that only 69.4 percent of student tickets were used during the 2012 season.

In the past couple of years, Georgia has reduced its student-ticket allotment from 18,000 to 16,000, making those extra tickets available to younger alumni who can buy them without making an annual donation.

At Tennessee, student attendance increased dramatically last season in Butch Jones’ first year as coach. It was up almost 2,300 per game. As an enticement to continue getting students to go to the games, Tennessee plans to move more of them from the upper deck to the lower bowl.
The moment Auburn's attempt at a Hollywood finish fell short at the VIZIO BCS National Championship after a series of laterals failed to produce one last miracle, the SEC's reign of BCS terror was over. The Tigers, who played this season's Cinderella, couldn't bring home the conference's eighth straight BCS title after a valiant comeback by No. 1 Florida State inside the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeAuburn Dejected
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe bowl season did not end how Auburn and the SEC hoped.
The Seminoles' 34-31 thriller out West made for a fantastic finish for the BCS era, but it left a bitter taste in the mouth of the SEC and its rabid fan base. Despite earning the best conference bowl win percentage with a 7-3 record (.700) in the postseason, the SEC wanted the big one. And it fell short for the first time since failing to make the BCS title game in 2005. In fact, this was the first time ever that the SEC lost in the BCS title game when it wasn't playing itself.

While SEC commissioner Mike Slive was right when he said that the SEC's incredible national championship run would never be duplicated (seven in a row, really?), you can't help but wonder how much it hurt him to see his beloved conference not bring home one last crystal football.

If only Auburn's Tre Mason had come up short on that 37-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 19 seconds left. Oh, what could have been different if he had downed the ball at the 1- or 2-yard line …

Before the Tigers' loss, the SEC lost its other BCS matchup when Alabama was knocked off 45-31 by Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The national championship stung for the SEC, but this one hurt. This was viewed as certified gimmie for the league, after a historic line was put Alabama's way. But after a quick score by the Crimson Tide that appeared to set the tone, the Sooners punched and kicked their way to a more physical showing, beating Alabama at its own game.

Big Game Bob Stoops talked about SEC propaganda and backed his mouth up with a strong effort that had anti-SEC fans giddy on and off of Bourbon Street.

Still, the SEC finished with its third consecutive winning bowl season. The last time the league had a losing record in bowl play was when it went 3-4 in 2002. While the result of the BCS bowls weren't to the SEC's liking, seven other ones made the conference shine brightly.

It started with Ole Miss beating Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. After back-to-back losses to end the regular season, the Rebels pounced on the Yellow Jackets, holding them to their second-lowest rushing output (151 yards) of the season. Not to be outdone, Mississippi State capped off an impressive 2013 finish with a 44-7 beatdown of Rice in the Liberty Bowl.

The most exciting bowl game came later that night when Johnny Manziel said goodbye to college football by helping to erase a 21-point deficit in Texas A&M's 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The SEC flexed its muscles on New Year's Day when South Carolina downed Wisconsin by 10 in the Capital One Bowl and LSU ground out a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The day was nearly a sweep, but Georgia's 24-19 loss to Nebraska (equipped with a 99-yard touchdown pass allowed in the third quarter) destroyed the shot at perfection.

The SEC rounded out its non-BCS bowls with an exciting 41-31 win by Missouri over old Big 12 foe Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, while Vanderbilt made short work of Houston with a 41-24 victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The wins clearly outnumbered the losses for the SEC, but when it came down to the two big ones, the conference fell short. For all the good that this league produced during bowl season, the BCS losses will be the ones everyone remembers.
Ten SEC teams are headed to the postseason and one of them is playing the granddaddy of them all. All is right in the college football world below the Mason-Dixon Line, as the SEC looks to extend its BCS title streak to eight in a row.

Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...

Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:

VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston

I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCan tailback Tre Mason and the Tigers bring home an eighth consecutive national title for the SEC?
Edward Aschoff's first impressions

Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.

Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.

Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.

The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.

Chris Low's first impressions

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisQuarterback James Franklin and Missouri will take on Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Florida State might be a little more than a touchdown favorite by the oddsmakers, but Auburn is playing lights out on offense. How do you stop that running game? The Seminoles come into the game with the better defense. That’s not debatable. But the Tigers seem to be in their comfort zone when they can turn a game into a track meet. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason are both electrifying playmakers, and Mason has shown that he’s plenty durable, too. The matchup, though, that makes this game so enticing is an Auburn offensive line that has blossomed this season against a talented, athletic Florida State defensive front. Nobody has run the ball against the Seminoles all season. But, then, nobody had run the ball against Alabama this season, either, until Auburn lit up the Tide for 296 rushing yards two weeks ago.

Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.

Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.

The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Even before last season began, Alabama coach Nick Saban reminded everyone that the SEC’s national championship streak would at some point bite the dust.

“It’s not going to last forever. We all know that,” Saban said. “There are too many good teams out there and too many good conferences. But if our league continues to do the right things and have the quality of coaches we have, the programs we have and the leadership from a conference level that Mike Slive has given us, then we should always be very competitive and somebody from our league will come to the forefront and at least be competing for a championship.”

Sure enough, Alabama went out last season and won its second straight title -- and third in the past four years -- to make it seven in a row for the SEC.

The Crimson Tide will almost certainly start the 2013 season ranked No. 1 in the country, meaning we could very easily be talking about eight in a row a little more than six months from now.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and the Crimson Tide had to catch a number of breaks to get back to the national title game last season.
While Alabama has certainly been the poster child for the SEC’s success, it is worth noting that four different schools have won titles during the current streak. Nobody needs to remind Georgia fans, either, how close the Bulldogs came to being a fifth school to play for one last season.

So as everybody else around the college football world searches for cracks in the SEC’s foundation, the real enemy for the SEC may well lie within.

This will be the last year the BCS system determines the national champion. In 2014, it’s on to the College Football Playoff with four teams playing it off at the end of the season.

So if there’s any stopping the SEC’s runaway train, this may be the year to do it.

After all, how many times will the SEC not get two teams into the College Football Playoff?

The growing legions of fans tired of seeing the SEC win all the time (and convinced the current system using polls and computers favors the SEC) will point out that two SEC teams played for the national title in 2011 when Alabama beat LSU in New Orleans in a rematch of their regular-season affair. The Crimson Tide didn’t even win their division that year and lost at home to LSU in November.

But had there been a four-team playoff that year, both Alabama and LSU would have made the cut.

With only two teams playing for the top prize one more year under the BCS format, there’s a greater chance that the SEC could be left out of the festivities.

Go back and think how close that came to happening a year ago.

As dominant as Alabama was in the title game, the Crimson Tide needed Kansas State and Oregon both to lose that third week in November after falling the previous week at home to Texas A&M.

Even then, Saban is the first to admit that had Ohio State not been on NCAA probation and ineligible for the postseason, then it probably would have been an unbeaten Ohio State and an unbeaten Notre Dame playing for the national championship last season.

The bottom line: Not many teams in the SEC are going to go unbeaten. Sure, Auburn did it in 2010 and Alabama in 2009. But five of the seven teams to win national titles during the SEC’s streak had at least one loss.

And with as many as five SEC teams that could start this season ranked in the top 10 nationally, who’s to say that the SEC won’t beat up on itself and pave the way for two unbeaten teams from other leagues to finish in the top two spots of the final BCS standings?

“That’s what makes this league so special,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’re all fighting to get to that SEC championship game because we know what that can lead to. But it’s like a playoff every week in our league just to get there.”

There’s also the matter of winning it when you get there. If not for a tipped pass inside the 10-yard line a year ago, it could have been Georgia taking on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game instead of Alabama.

Think about all the potential roadblocks this season.

Even if Texas A&M can beat Alabama at home that third week of the season, the Aggies still have to go to LSU in late November. Can Georgia manage to lose to South Carolina again and still get to the SEC championship game? Should Alabama make it unscathed through the regular season, there’s a good chance that a top-10 Florida, Georgia or South Carolina could be waiting for the Tide in the SEC championship game.

Hey, nobody’s predicting that the SEC’s streak will end in 2013. But if the ball doesn’t bounce just right -- and everybody in the league is sitting there with at least one loss when those final BCS standings are unveiled -- this may be the year that the overall strength of the SEC ends up being its undoing.

At least, the rest of the college football world can hope so.
The adage has always been that if something ain't broke, don't fix it. By all accounts, that mantra has worked just fine for the SEC.

Just look at the seven straight BCS titles.

But changes to scheduling is being talked about in college football's most successful conference, especially with the new College Football Playoff on the horizon.

Currently, SEC teams play eight conference games, but that number could move to nine. Talk of SEC teams playing nine conference games isn't anything new, but with two more teams in the conference and strength of schedule becoming a very important factor in how the playoff committee chooses its four playoff teams, nine-game talk has increased.

SEC coaches fielded questions about increasing the number of conference games during last week's SEC coaches teleconference, and league commissioner Mike Slive addressed a nine-game conference schedule Monday.

"Obviously the playoff impacts how we think about scheduling," Slive said. "Strength of scheduling will be a significant component in the committee's analysis. As far as I am concerned, I am open-minded about how we should schedule, and I anticipate continued discussions about how we schedule in the future."

Nine games is a tricky subject when it comes to the SEC. Coaches have made the argument that the league is tough enough, and adding another conference game makes the road to Atlanta -- and the national championship -- that much harder. Also, SEC championship teams would have to play 10 conference games. That's a lot of wear and tear before heading into a four-team playoff.

Then, you have a schools like Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina who annually play nonconference rivals. Those certainly aren't gimmie games, so think about adding another conference game to the slate.

"We're not for nine conference games because of our instate rival Florida State," Florida coach Wil Muschamp said.

While the selfish part of me wants to see all SEC teams playing tougher nonconference games more consistently, I understand why coaches and athletic directors would be against that. Again, scheduling formulas have worked to this point.

Here's what Missouri's Gary Pinkel had to say about moving to nine conference games:
“Most coaches like eight games, and one of the reasons is because it’s such a tough league as it is. It would have a huge effect on your nonconference (schedule) going down to three games. There’s a lot of aspects to it. And I think TV will have maybe something to say about that also, in terms of what they would like.”

But there are arguments for moving to nine games. With a nine-game SEC schedule players would have the chance to play every SEC school during their careers. It would also help bolster teams' strength of schedule for the upcoming playoff. You'd certainly get a much more entertaining game than Alabama taking on a directional school or an FCS opponent.

Strength of schedule is certainly going to be an issue the SEC has to tackle, whether it has eight or nine conference games, but as long as the SEC stays as strong as it is, chances are its champion will continuously sit at the playoff table.

So why alter a working product?

Plus, the SEC still has to figure out its rotation issues with scheduling first. Does the conference stay with a permanent cross-division opponent, regardless of how many conference games teams play?

Like last year's SEC spring meetings, which begin at the end of May, coaches and administors will discuss all things under the scheduling sun, but another thing to consider when it comes to nine conference games is that teams would be giving up a home game every year in order to play another league game. That means a loss of revenue, folks.

There are pluses and minuses to nine conference games, and while the Big Ten is taking on the challenge, the SEC doesn't have to be so fast to copy its northern cousins.
DESTIN, Fla. -- When SEC commissioner Mike Slive and the rest of the SEC elites leave the 2012 SEC spring meetings later this week the hope is that there will be a concrete scheduling format for the 2013 football season and possibly beyond.

The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M means teams will have to play six divisional games instead of five, making things a little complicated.

Right now, it looks like the most likely format, which could be set as early as Friday, will be a 6-1-1 model. That gives teams six divisional games, one permanent crossover game and rotating crossover. The rotating crossover would no longer be a traditional two-year home and home series. It would simply be a one-year rotation. It’s the same model that will be used for the 2012 season.

LSU coach Les Miles said he’d like the structure of future SEC schedules to be “definable,” and wouldn’t mind if the league re-examined how it chose permanent crossovers.

"Legitimately tell me about how you're picking crossover games,” Miles said at the spring meetings Tuesday. “Is it the best team in the East, the best team in the West, top three and top three? OK, if you guys want to do that let's do that. It might change the matches, but if you want to say, 'Well, we really are going to seed the best teams verses the lesser teams,' well, OK, let's do that, but define the structure and let's stay with it.

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DESTIN, Fla. – Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn’t held back from talking about his disdain for placing only conference champions in a four-team playoff. He’s very much for a four-team playoff, but he won’t go for one that alienates teams by only picking the top four conference champions.

The whole reason any of this playoff talk even started is because people outside of the game are passionate about seeing one in college football. To take away the chance for the four BEST teams to play makes no sense to Saban.

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The days of the Rose Bowl being the bowl of bowls could soon be coming to an end now that the SEC and the Big 12 have agreed on a five-year bowl partnership.

The new deal, announced Friday, will have the champions of the Big 12 and SEC meet in a New Year's Day bowl game annually beginning with the 2014 season. So while it won’t have the tradition of the Rose Bowl, it’ll have the viewers and it’ll have the popularity.

We’re seeing more and more how power is truly the most important component in college football, and this is a great example. Soon, we’ll have the two best BCS conferences going at it in their own special bowl competing with the beloved Rose Bowl.

We’re joined on the SEC blog by Big 12 blogger David Ubben to get his thoughts on what this means for the Big 12. We’re gentlemen down here in SEC country, so we’ll let him go first:

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