For Grambling this year, that means trading a winnable home contest like NAIA Langston for a trip to former Top 10 FBS foe Oklahoma State.
Big pay day? Sure. Chance of winning? Not so much.
There’s got to be a better way, fans might be thinking.
There is: Go to your own home games.
GSU struggled to a No. 24 ranking among Football Championship Subdivision programs for attendance last year, drawing an average of 11,219 a night to Robinson Stadium in 2008. But those numbers are skewed upward by homecoming, and a trip by the always-popular Jackson State to Grambling.
Other dates every year are often shockingly less well attended: See TheDerisoReport’s 10-year attendance report below.
The cliche about struggling programs is that the play in front of half-full stadiums. At Grambling, that’s basically the case: In 2007, it sold just 64 percent of the total seats at The Rob, according to the NCAA.
Jackson State, meanwhile, led all SWAC schools in home attendance, with 21,263, and brought a heavy contingency of fans to Robinson Stadium in 2008. Appallachian State paced FCS last season, by the way, with 25,161 supporters a night. (Read the NCAA’s complete report here.)
Home attendance problems are, of course, nothing new. Most of GSU’s graduates are drawn back to their far-flung hometowns after a four- or five-year stint in the piney woods of north Louisiana. And Grambling, even its glory days under Eddie Robinson, was always a road team.
Still, it doesn’t seem like much to ask that the alumni return three or four times a year to support the old college team. Dear ol’ Grambling needs it now more than ever.
Stay away, and here’s how it plays out: The program has dramatically ramped up the number of upper-divisional non-conference foes signed simply to fill budget gaps across the athletic department.
Over the course of the 10 seasons before Rod Broadway’s arrival, Grambling played just 5 of these games — Louisville in 2000, San Jose State in 2003, Washington State in 2005 and Houston in 2006. Grambling has played one a year since ’05, continuing with Pittsburgh in 2007, Nevada in 2008 and Oklahoma State this season.
That’s basically the dividing line in Broadway’s win-loss record since arriving.
“I understand the reasons that we are doing it,” Broadway was telling me the other day, “and I know we need to make some money. But I like to win. Let us play some football, and let us play some place where the field is level.”
Like, say, Robinson Stadium.
“If we can start getting people coming to our home games and supporting us there, we won’t have to sell these kids down the road every year,” Broadway says. “I think that’s the way we need to go about it. If we were to get 10,000 extra fans a game, at $10 a head over course of four home games, thats $400,000. You’re not going to get that kind of guarantee at too many away games, and then you have expenses.”
Broadway pauses. Then, drives in the point: “We need to start supporting ourselves.”
It’s hard to argue against.
HERE’S A 10-SEASON LOOK BACK AT ATTENDANCE:
Alabama A&M, Sept. 11: 7,586
Valley, Oct. 9: 5,210
Texas Southern, Oct. 30: 14,776
Alcorn, Sept. 2: 14,310
Jackson State, Oct. 21: 16,424
Alabama State, Nov. 4: 12,954
Alabama A&M, Sept. 8: 7,432
Texas Southern, Oct. 27: 22,736
Alcorn, Sept. 7: 11,880
Langston, Sept. 28: 6,975
Jackson State, Oct. 26: 9,462
Alabama State, Nov. 9: 16,723
McNeese, Sept. 30: 17,485
Valley, Oct. 11: 6,397
Texas Southern, Nov. 1: 21,065
Savannah State, Nov. 15: 3,001
Alcorn, Sept. 4: 18,581
UAPB, Oct. 16: 15,585
Jackson State, Oct. 23: 15,085
Alabama State, Nov. 6: 17,401
Alabama A&M, Sept. 10: 12,195
Valley, Oct. 8: 9,543
Texas Southern, Oct. 29: 22,032
Concordia, Nov. 12: 5,085
Jackson State, Oct. 21: 18,883
Alabama State, Nov. 4: 18,420
Alcorn, Dec. 2: 2,383
Alabama A&M, Sept. 22: 7,831
Valley, Oct. 6: 9,873
Texas Southern, Oct. 27: 19,639
Alcorn State, Sept. 6: 10,077
Jackson State, Sept. 20: 12,702
Langston, Sept. 22: 5,121
Alabama State, Oct. 18: 16,974