Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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BG-UT rivalry flies only in fair weather

Let's take athletic director Greg Christopher at his word that Gregg Brandon's rip job on Bowling Green's football fans was just "noise in the system," and not a major reason the coach was fired Saturday.

But I'll guarantee you it was the last straw, the final fly in the ointment. The last thing a mid-major with support and attendance woes can tolerate is a coach further offending whatever meager fan base exists.

Brandon's real transgression was in the timing. His team had just blown a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost a game to Buffalo and a clear path to the MAC East championship that would have led to a league title game appearance and a fourth bowl game in six seasons.

The situation called for a contrite coach to point the finger at himself and his staff for their team's failure to finish and for some poor play-calling in double overtime. Instead, an angry, combative Brandon opened his postgame press conference by calling the turnout at Doyt Perry Field "pitiful" and saying such support in what amounted to a title game "disgusts me."

That Brandon was right turns out to be as incidental as the contact BG's defense managed in the game's fourth quarter and two overtimes.

But he was right.

The Falcons have averaged 15,834 fans, based on

announced attendance, at home games during the last four years. And that figure is certainly

suspect. For example, the

announced crowd for the

Buffalo game, based on tickets sold, was 13,284, but far fewer than half that many fans were actually in the seats.

Brandon, who had no idea he was about 12 hours from unemployment, softened his tone after the win at Toledo last Friday, apologizing to those who took his comments as "harsh and over the top." Had he known what was in his immediate future perhaps he would have done everybody a favor and ripped UT's fans and MAC scheduling, too, on his way out the door.

It is time for the BG-Toledo game to be returned to the fair-weather portion of the conference schedule, accommodating the schools' many fair-weather fans, before a great rivalry

becomes totally irrelevant.

One thing we've learned through the years is that MAC fans are generally not a hearty breed. They lose interest quickly in teams that aren't winning, and tickets are used instead to light fireplaces at the first sign of

inclement weather.

The UT-BG game drew an announced 11,264, another number not to be confused with actual B-I-S (butts in seats). Even if legitimate, it was still, to borrow Brandon's word, pitiful.

Granted, the Rockets had a bad season and BG was playing out the string after the loss to Buffalo. But it's a rivalry game, for goodness sake.

Unlike many college football rivalries, BG and UT playing on the final weekend of the regular season is not a tradition. It has only been since 2000 that ESPN requested the change and national audiences have been rewarded with several tremendous games.

But attendance figures have declined and it can't be allowed to continue, especially by slating the game a day or two after Thanksgiving when no students are on either campus.

Some 15,000 seats went unsold last Friday, a revenue loss that can't be covered by whatever pittance ESPN pays MAC schools. It's time for the league to dictate to the network, not the other way around, and return the BG-UT game to its far more traditional date in mid-October when fans still care and the rivalry can remain relevant.

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