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Neutral-site games likely part of Syracuse football’s future

(just like most other programs)

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After the Syracuse Orange football team’s road game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was moved to Yankee Stadium for 2018, quite a few SU fans expressed some negativity toward neutral-site games.

Since 2013, Syracuse has played three different games at MetLife Stadium (two vs. ND and one against Penn State). The fear in seeing the road game against the Irish moved is that the next home game (2022) could potentially be moved from the Carrier Dome as well.

For as much as I hate taking college football away from the campus atmospheres that color it so vividly, this move would also make a lot of sense for Syracuse’s future.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As discussed in the comments last week, Syracuse isn’t really selling out home games against conference foes like Florida State and Clemson. Non-conference opponents like LSU may get close. But with some of the lowest ticket prices in the country ($99 as the floor for season tickets), the amount SU makes in one home game is not going to make or break the athletic department.

Especially when payouts for these neutral-site games can hit (for the Orange) somewhere in the $3-5 million range.

If you figure the average crowd at Syracuse is probably around 35,000 paid tickets per game and each person pays for around $15 for concessions during a game, that still figures to well under $2 million per game -- before considering the cost to the school for putting on the game on campus.

In an environment where less people are attending games in-person, moving one home game every so often to a neutral site is not just good business. It might be essential to keeping a program financially viable.

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Kickoff-Alabama vs Florida State Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t even a Syracuse-specific problem, either. Excluding the annual neutral-site games around the country, there were 12 different off-campus games in 2016. There were 11 scheduled for 2017 before Maryland/Rutgers was moved back from Yankee Stadium due to the Bronx Bombers’ deeper run in the playoffs. Another 11 are scheduled for 2018 and similar (if not greater) numbers are coming for 2019 and beyond.

It’s not just programs like Syracuse or Rutgers or Maryland that participate, either. Alabama will be playing on a neutral site ever year through 2019. Louisville’s jumped into the fray, as have Florida State, USC, LSU and many others that don’t necessarily have the attendance issues the Orange have displayed. Ends up the money involved for these games nationwide is too much to say no to.

With potential opponents to fill future schedules already looking like a slim list, this could end up being one route Syracuse pursues in 2020 or 2021 to both fill a Power Five spot and earn some cash. I don’t want us scheduling Alabama or Auburn or USC, but they may soon be our only options left for those seasons. If we’re going to play an opponent like that (would rather not), let’s at least get paid, no? (as Kevin’s pointed out a couple times already)

These budgetary issues aren’t even unique to just college football -- we’re just more hyper-focused on those games getting moved because there are fewer of them. Syracuse basketball played two neutral-site games this season. The same was true last year, and they played three the season before. From 2007-08 through this season, the Orange played between two and three neutral-site games every year. We didn’t necessarily hear the same complaints then, did we?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Syracuse Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This is no plea to scheduling tougher opponents at all (you should all know better by now), nor is it a campaign to put every notable non-conference opponent at a neutral-site. At the same time, it’s an explanation of why it’s probably necessary and probably going to happen more.

Syracuse’s local fans obviously deserve to see quality opponents at the Carrier Dome, and should get at least six home games per year whenever possible. But if moving one (non-conference) game every few years gives us the budget to help put a better product on the field for those home games, I’m personally with it. Again, it’s not as if we’re the only ones dealing with this. It’s college football’s reality, for better or worse.