SDSU, NCAA struggle with attendance

by Mike Heral, Senior Staff Columnist

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Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported a 7 percent decline in college football student attendance. Even the Power Five conferences observed a 5 percent decrease in student attendance.

You might be asking, “Who cares?” After all, student attendance is always a problem for San Diego State football. Losing 7 percent isn’t noticed when Qualcomm is at least 40 percent empty for every game anyway. But the problem is that a student not attending a free game means it isn’t likely the student will buy full-priced tickets after graduation. And universities depend upon spectator sports to keep the alumni invested enough to donate for campus improvement projects and scholarships. That is why you should care.

To find out what students, alumni, or just those who attend Aztec football games think about attending games, The Daily Aztec posted a question on Facebook. Here is a representative sample of responses received:

“They are starting to charge like they (do at) NFL games and that’s completely unreasonable especially if (you’re) not a top school,” Majorie Calvillo, a former criminal justice student at SDSU, said.

It’ll come as a shock to SDSU students where student tickets are always free, but many colleges charge students to attend games. Here’s what you’d pay for a student ticket at the following universities:

  • University of Michigan: $40
  • University of Southern California: $29
  • California State University Fresno: $10

“The price of parking with food (and) drinks is what tilts the scale for the average consumer,” business administration student Gabriel Torres said.

Qualcomm parking costs $10 to $20. A $7 daily transit pass reduces that cost, at the expense of increasing commuting time since a trolley ride often takes longer than driving. There are free parking spots outside Qualcomm, but those usually involve a long walk.

Not everyone finds the college football experience to be less than it used to be. Salvador Galvan wrote via email that he started attending Aztec football during the 2010 season. He was smitten, and has missed only one game since. The SDSU alumnus cites San Diego’s amazing weather and ample tailgate room as reasons he’ll continue buying season tickets.

I, too, intend to buy Aztec season tickets after I graduate. But I have my own list of concerns about college football games:

It’s too long. 

The average length of a game is three hours and 20 minutes, according to a report obtained by CBS Sports reporter Jeremy Fowler. Fowler writes that a game’s length increases almost every year. In contrast, the NFL gets in and out 10 minutes earlier. An average MLB games takes less than three hours to play.

Uneven competition.

The culprit here is that old saw about up-and-coming programs needing to schedule lopsided losses against Power Five opponents. I’d rather watch a 34-30 game played by two mid-size opponents than a 56-0 debacle. But to better ensure tightly contested games are played, mid-size schools have to give up big-size dreams.

I think the student attendance decline is a problem that universities can overcome. All they need to do is listen to what the students are saying.

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