The granddaddy of them all, as immortal announcer Keith Jackson famously called the Rose Bowl, is the dream destination for 12 college football teams on the West Coast. This will be the fourth year the Pac-12 conference has held a championship game that determines who goes to Pasadena. The location of the game was previously awarded to the team with the best record. This season, the Pac-12 made a poor decision to change the location of the championship game to Santa Clara, Calif.
The Pac-12 has just as much talent as any conference in the country this season. What they don’t have, however, is the tradition and fan support of the schools in the South and Midwest. The SEC and Big Ten both average over 70,000 fans each game. With Texas leading the way, the Big 12 is averaging just short of 59,000 every Saturday. The Pac-12 comes in at fourth place among conferences with 53,619. The weather and love of the outdoors on the west coast leads to a much different culture than the football crazed South and Midwest. I would bet Patrick Peterson‘s guaranteed money that if LSU wanted to build a new sports complex, there would be zero tree-huggers preventing them from doing so like the ones at California in 2007.
Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, looks absolutely beautiful, but will the Pac-12 fans come? It depends on the matchup. Will Oregon against USC sell out? I would bet my best friend’s life on it! What if Stanford plays Arizona State again? Oregon State against UCLA? Stanford and UCLA? The answer to the last three possibilities are a NO! Unless Oregon or USC makes it, this game will not be a sellout.
When the Pac-12 originally had the idea to give home-field advantage to the team with the best record, it was trying to avoid an empty stadium situation. In 2012 that happened when Stanford was hosting UCLA for the title game and only 31,622 fans showed up! Are you kidding me, Stanford fans? The linear algebra studying was really more important than seeing your school head to their first Rose Bowl since 2000?
Stanford has trouble getting fans to show up for their home games, but bowl games have been even worse for the Cardinal. In the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, for Andrew Luck’s last game ever wearing a Stanford uniform, the school only sold 11,000 out of their 17,500 allotted tickets. Shame on you Stanford fans for not supporting your team during its epic run to four straight BCS bowls!
UCLA averages over 70,000 fans a game in Westwood which is very impressive. Conversely, the Bruin faithful have already proven they won’t travel to the Bay area for a Pac-12 title game. USC has the most tradition rich program in the conference, filled with Heisman trophies (although two have been taken away) and national championships, and it’s not even close. USC fans are loyal, respectful, faithful and have proven throughout the years that they are willing to travel.
Oregon has been the top dog of the conference ever since Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks. The fans of the school in Eugene will travel to Santa Clara if Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota can lead them there. Outside of those two schools, who is going to travel to this game? When the game was played in Autzen Stadium in 2010, the Oregon faithful packed 56,000 fans into a 51,000-seat stadium.
Last season, Arizona State had the best record in the conference and hosted a packed stadium against Stanford. The atmosphere was electric — until the game started. I paid $80 for a lower level end zone ticket to the game and watched Stanford destroy the Sun Devils like Bo Jackson destroyed a bat after a strikeout.
Conference commissioner Larry Scott is clearly hyping this game up. The cheapest ticket to the 2014 Pac-12 championship game is currently being sold for $85. The Pac-12 is a little overzealous charging that much for nosebleed seats. They better hope for an Oregon and/or USC matchup for the sake of their wallets. Awarding the best team with home-field advantage led to sellouts two out of three seasons. It would disappointing if the 2014 Pac-12 title game in brand new Levi’s Stadium is half full on the Pac-12’s grand stage. So if you’re predicting an Arizona State and Stanford rematch like I am, plan on watching a great game in the middle of an empty stadium.