No. 14 Ole Miss hosts 7th in Kentucky on Saturday in Oxford. Both teams are undefeated. This is, to say the least, a great game.
The few hotel rooms available in the area cost $600 a night, and you can forget about booking a Friday night at the city grocer and the cops are already warning everyone about the traffic.
Vaught-Hemingway is sold out and the school encourages more than 60,000 fans to wear coordinating colors to “Stripe the Vaught” in red or navy, depending on their division.
This is the height of SEC football.
Until now Ole Miss Head Coach Lynn Kevin He’s not without fan concerns, though he vowed to stop caring and just prepare his team.
It’s not that Oxford will not be overrun with people. The thing is, Kevin doesn’t know when they’ll be inside the actual stadium, let alone how long they’ll be.
The game is an attraction, as are Grove, The Square, and Library Sports Bar, among other options for anyone looking for a drink.
It’s fun, as it should be. But Kiffin isn’t afraid to call up his fans due to their heavy interest in the party, not just at the expense of supporting the team, but at the expense of the actual team.
“Get out before the game, or the end of the first half…and get out of the tunnel and it feels like a high school game playing on a college playground,” Kevin said this week of poor attendance before the first and third quarters.
“You can’t let that affect you,” he continued. “There’s psychology to that. There’s an advantage in the house for a reason. When things go the other way, you have this feeling, ‘Are we still playing a match here?’ The guys have to fight that.”
This is not unique to Ole Miss. This is a college football thing.
Filling mega stadiums in often small university towns is an increasing challenge. National average attendance has declined for seven consecutive years. 39,848 in 2021 was the lowest since 1981, according to CBSSports.com
Even Nick Saban of Alabama was routinely lecturing in the student section to stick to the full game, not out to refill in the first half. “You have to stay and support the team,” he said.
Given that college football programs generally only play six or seven home games a year, it might seem strange for a sport that generates such a passion for conflict with the participation of fans. It is real though.
Sports departments have done what they can to combat it. If football wasn’t enough – and first-half marching teams have a lot of traction these days – they devised entire in-game entertainment scenarios to keep fans (and attendees) engaged.
WiFi capabilities have been expanded. DJ was hired. LED displays created for the third quarter. Some schools have featured songs, like Florida (Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”) and Michigan (“Mr. Brightside” for Killers). “
The most effective move may be the increasing number of schools (Ohio, LSU, Oklahoma and others) now selling alcohol in the stadium. Presumably, it curbs fans pre-match loading with one last beer – or looking for another in the second half.
Some schools are redesigning (professional sports) the physical stadium to include more party floors and standing room areas. For example, the state of Tennessee promised that the new “North End District Social Group” would offer a “modern play day experience.” Gone are the days of cramming benches in a big bowl.
Of course, Ole Miss did all of the above as well. You can buy alcohol, there are several student party floors, Blue Moon brewhouse, DJ enhanced sound system, LED lights, noise videos, more vendors and POS locations etc.
Perhaps the real problem is the competitive nature (or lack thereof) of the sport. NFL fans love to party, too, but they tend to stick to the bitter end in large part because games are always in doubt until the last minutes. Not so in college sports.
The last two games at Ole Miss Stadium, where fans were lacking in fans, included a 59-3 explosion in central Arkansas and victory over Tulsa That saw the rebels advance 35-17 in the first half. Sink into the Mississippi heat this time of year, and yes, you can see why people want to go back under the back door tent.
After all, returning to the parking lot at MetLife Stadium is one thing. It’s very different from posting at The Grove, a picturesque 10-acre space in the middle of the campus.
The big game of college football isn’t just a big game of college football. It’s a big college football weekend.
Which is why Lane Kevin has given up trying to coach his fans and says that instead he’s just going to coach his team.
“I’ve tried social media, coming here [to news conferences] For two years,” Kevin said, mocking his failures. “We will worry about what we can control and that gets our players ready to play.”
It’s up to the fans to put in the cocktails and get to the actual game…you know, the point of it all.
At least it’s supposed.
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