Whitley: College football fans want more creative scheduling

David Whitley
Gainesville Sun
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For 115 years, Florida fans have faced a question when it comes to football games.

"Is this something I want to spend my money on?" athletic director Scott Stricklin said.

He wasn't in the post in 1906, when tickets cost 25 cents. About 150 showed up at a baseball field to watch Florida beat the Gainesville Athletic Club 16-6.

For the next century, the answer to that question was usually, "Yes, I will gladly spend far more than 25 cents on UF football."

In a sense, generations of fans were played for suckers. Florida could have played the Pahokee A.C. and sold out the largest stadium in town.

Not anymore.

Fans want more bang for their season-ticket bucks, and their demands are paying off. The ultimate proof came last week when Florida announced a home-and-home series with Notre Dame.

Hail Mary, our prayers have been answered!

The series against the Fighting Irish won't start until 2031. The Gators' other nonconference games that year are against Texas, Arizona State and FSU.

That must look like one long typo, but I'm happy to report the longtime UF scheduling philosophy is dead and buried.

It basically was "We have to play a brutal SEC schedule and FSU, so the rest of our schedule can be made up of Eastern Idaho and Bemidji State."

There was a lot of truth in that, but it made for some dishwater dull football. Now even the most popular football brands know they can't just open the gates and expect fans to flood in.

They need one thing.

 "FOMO," Stricklin said.

That stands for Fear Of Missing Out. It's the anxious feeling that others are gleefully experiencing something you are not.

That human tendency has been heightened by social media. People feel left out when they check Facebook or Instagram and see someone having a big time.

"Young people really struggle with FOMO, and even us old guys sometimes," Stricklin said. "You need to create more of those big events where if they're not there, they're FOMO."

You don't get FOMO from FAMU.

Nothing against the Rattlers or Idaho Vandals or Central Michigan Chippewas, but they just show up to get their heads and a big paycheck handed to them.

Such teams have always been known as "cupcakes." As with any sweet, they're OK in small doses. But the SEC traditionally looked like a buffet line of Fat Elvis impersonators, and the Gators were usually leading the way.

Remember the 62-0 win over Western Carolina? That 82-6 squeaker over Central Michigan? How about the combined 126-0 blowouts of Montana State and Indiana State in 1988?

Probably not, because you went for a beer at halftime and never came back.

I don't want to say the Gators were risk-averse, but their 2023 game at Utah will be their first out-of-state, nonconference road game at an opponent's stadium since they lost the 1991 opener at Syracuse.

And do you know when Florida last won a nonconference regular season game outside the state against a team with a winning record?

1947, at North Carolina State.

I read that on SBNation.com's FSU website and thought it was a joke. The point is, Florida fans were long conditioned to accept there was no life outside the SEC.

They also knew a loss at Southern Cal would be deadly to any national-championship dreams. That's changed thanks to the College Football Playoff.

The 13-member selection committee (which Stricklin was a part of) values strength of schedule. It has introduced the term "quality loss" into the football vocabulary.

What it means is you're better off losing 32-28 at Ohio State than beating UNLV and Eastern Kansas by a combined 487-0.

As the playoff system inevitably expands, there will be more room for error and adventurous scheduling. It's conceivable a 10-2 SEC team could make the playoff if those losses are to Oklahoma and Alabama.

Speaking of the Sooners, they're playing at Georgia in 2023. Alabama has scheduled home-and-homes in the next 12 years against Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio State, FSU and Notre Dame.

It pays to play tough teams, not avoid them. Welcome to the brave, new FOMO world.

Florida will still have an annual cupcake (Hello, Charlotte in 2023), but it has also lined up series against Texas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State.

And now you can circle the calendar. On Sept. 11, 2032, Notre Dame will come to The Swamp.

If you leave at halftime to get a beer that day, chances are you'll be coming back.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com.

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