Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, SoCon discussion, and more (including coin toss data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. Why is it in two parts? Well, because it is a big ol’ pile of words and numbers, and couldn’t be contained in just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, an area of the field which apparently got that moniker from none other than Joe Gibbs.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 66.7%

Better, much better. 2017 was a disaster in the Red Zone, but in 2018 the Bulldogs finished a respectable 4th in the league.

There is still room for improvement, though. My suggestion: figure out why scoring from inside the 20-yard line against VMI is so difficult.

In the last four games against the Keydets, The Citadel has only scored 6 touchdowns in 20 trips to the Red Zone. That is maddening. The ability to finish drives is paramount when the coveted Silver Shako is on the line.

When all games are taken into account, the Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of 63.6% last season, good for 42nd nationally (they were 90th in 2017). Davidson, which scored touchdowns on 35 of 40 trips inside the 20-yard line, led FCS (87.5%). Also in the top five: Robert Morris, Jacksonville, North Dakota State, and North Carolina A&T.

While it helps to be proficient in the Red Zone, it isn’t an automatic indicator of success. Davidson, the subject of some discussion in Part 1 of this post, had crazy offensive numbers but was 6-5 overall (still a sizable improvement over previous years for the Wildcats).

Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored TDs in 29 of 37 Red Zone opportunities, but finished 2-9, which can happen when opponents average 43.5 points per game. Jacksonville allowed 38.7 points per game, and thus JU wound up 2-8.

On the other hand, North Dakota State and North Carolina A&T won a lot of games, as did UC Davis (6th in this category), South Dakota State (7th), San Diego (8th), Kennesaw State (10th), and Princeton (11th).

Samford was 12th, Furman 15th, Mercer 34th, South Carolina State 46th, VMI 58th, ETSU 68th, Presbyterian 71st, Wofford 73rd, Elon 90th, Western Carolina 92nd, Towson 94th, James Madison 96th, Chattanooga 98th, Charleston Southern 101st (after finishing 6th nationally in 2017), and Alabama State 124th and last (at 34.5%).

Eastern Washington had the most Red Zone opportunities in FCS, with 76 (converting 65.8% of them into TDs). James Madison had the second-most RZ chances in the subdivision (69); the Dukes also finished second in Red Zone opportunities in 2017.

Presbyterian only entered the Red Zone 17 times last season, fewest in FCS.

As far as FBS teams are concerned, UCF led the way, with a TD rate in the Red Zone of 79.7%. Following the Knights in this category were Miami (OH), Houston, Washington State, and Navy.

Other notables: Clemson (6th), Army (tied for 16th), Georgia Southern (19th), Alabama (30th), Oklahoma (32nd), Coastal Carolina (75th), South Carolina (tied for 100th), Southern California (109th), LSU (119th), and Arkansas (130th and last, at 43.2%).

The top five in Red Zone chances: Alabama (79 in 15 games), Syracuse (75 in 13 games), Clemson (75 in 15 games), Ohio (72 in 13 games), and North Carolina State (71 in 13 games).

Oklahoma was 7th, Army tied for 24th (as did Georgia Tech), South Carolina tied for 34th, and Akron finished at the bottom (only 21 times inside the 20-yard line in 12 games).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 58.6%

Again, this was a big improvement from 2017. The Citadel finished 3rd in the SoCon in defensive Red Zone TD rate.

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Chattanooga, followed by Furman.

Nationally, The Citadel finished 36th in defensive Red Zone TD rate (the Bulldogs were 117th in 2017). North Carolina A&T, with a 31.0% rate, topped FCS. The Aggies were followed by North Dakota State and three northeastern programs — Holy Cross, Colgate, and Dartmouth.

James Madison was 6th, Chattanooga 7th, South Carolina State 19th, Elon 29th, Mercer 60th, Charleston Southern 61st, ETSU 63rd, Furman 65th, Western Carolina 78th, Wofford 81st, Samford 105th, Towson 106th, VMI 112th, and Morehead State 124th and last (opponents scored 42 TDs in 49 Red Zone possessions against the Eagles — 85.7%).

Quick note: Furman’s defense allowed touchdowns on 14 of 25 Red Zone trips in conference play (56%). The Paladins’ non-league opponents, however, scored on 85.7% of possessions that ventured inside the 20, which is why nationally FU is a bit lower (62.5%) than in the SoCon stats.

That discrepancy is a sample-size issue, though, and one I thought worth mentioning. Thanks to a cancellation caused by Hurricane Florence, Furman only had two non-conference opponents, and they were Clemson and Elon. Clemson was 4 for 5 scoring TDs inside the 20-yard line, and Elon was 2 for 2.

The more you know…

Princeton’s opponents only made 17 trips to the Red Zone in 10 games, fewest in all of FCS. Colgate, Dartmouth, and North Dakota State were also stingy when it came to letting teams get close to their respective end zones.

The Citadel was 61st overall, facing 41 Red Zone possessions in 11 contests. VMI tied for allowing the most opponent appearances inside the 20, with 61 in 11 games, sharing that dubious mark with Robert Morris and Northern Colorado.

Mississippi State led FBS in defensive Red Zone touchdown rate, at 29.4%. Others in the top 5: Auburn, Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson.

Alabama tied for 56th, South Carolina was 65th, and Coastal Carolina was 103rd. None other than Oklahoma (!) finished last. The Sooners allowed TDs on 45 of 54 Red Zone trips by their opponents (83.3%).

The fewest Red Zone appearances by their opponents: Fresno State, with just 27 in 14 games. The most allowed: Connecticut, with 67 in 12 games.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2018: 45.3%

The Bulldogs finished second in the league, behind Samford (48.2%). The league average in 2018 was 39.7%. The Citadel also had the most third down conversion attempts in SoCon action.

This was another category in which Davidson (55.6%) finished first in FCS. Princeton, North Dakota State, and Yale joined the Wildcats in the top 5. Kennesaw State was 6th, Samford 10th, and The Citadel 22nd.

Furman was 24th, Western Carolina 27th, Wofford 40th, Towson 42nd, Chattanooga 44th, ETSU 61st, Elon 62nd, Mercer 72nd, VMI 92nd, Presbyterian 93rd, South Carolina State 115th, Charleston Southern 119th, and Savannah State (which is moving to D-2) 124th and last, at 23.7%.

Army led FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (57.1%). Boise State was 2nd, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCF.

Clemson was 20th, Georgia Tech 26th, South Carolina 41st, Coastal Carolina 42nd, Air Force 50th, Georgia Southern 70th, Navy 76th, North Texas 84th, New Mexico 85th, Florida Atlantic 119th, and Rice 130th and last at 28.7%.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2018: 35.1%

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bulldogs were very solid in this area.

Wofford led the league, at 30.4%. VMI, which allowed league opponents to convert third downs at a 48.1% clip, was last.

North Carolina A&T topped FCS with a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 25.4%. Jacksonville State, Weber State, Harvard, and Sam Houston State completed the top 5.

Wofford was 25th overall, The Citadel 38th, South Carolina State 44th, Elon 55th, Samford 68th, Furman 74th, Chattanooga 75th, Charleston Southern 85th, Towson 91st, ETSU 93rd, Presbyterian 95th, Western Carolina 106th, Mercer 109th, VMI 118th, and Butler (which definitely didn’t do it in this category) 124th and last, at 53.6%.

A brief comment: The Citadel opens its season this year with games against Towson and Elon (the latter on the road). It is clear the Bulldogs need to maintain these advantages in 3rd-down conversion rate on both sides of the ball. Another thing that has to happen for The Citadel to win either of those games, of course, is to force its opponents to face more third downs in the first place.

Miami (FL) allowed its opponent to convert only 25.3% of third down attempts last season, good enough to lead all of FBS. The Hurricanes were followed by UAB, Mississippi State, Army, and Cincinnati, with Clemson finishing 6th.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia Southern 62nd, South Carolina 70th, Air Force 94th, Coastal Carolina 115th, Navy 122th, Georgia Tech 129th, and Louisville 130th and last (51.9%). Bobby Petrino just couldn’t rally the defense on third down; hard to believe, isn’t it?

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 29 sacks, 27 passes defensed in 287 pass attempts (10.5% PD)

Note: Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions (but plays that result in sacks are not counted as part of the PD rate).

The Bulldogs led the league in sacks last season. Notice the large increase in pass plays faced by The Citadel in 2018; VMI accounts for a good chunk of that differential, and then Samford’s Devlin Hodges never quit slinging the pigskin against the Bulldogs, either.

The Citadel had 24 “hurries”, down slightly from 2017. I’m not a huge fan of that stat, because I’m not completely sure it is consistently interpreted by all game scorers.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.9%, up a little from 2017 (when it was 19.4%). The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I do not believe there is a website that compiles havoc rates for FCS teams, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.9% would have been good enough to tie Penn State for 8th nationally in FBS in 2018.

Naturally, that 19.9% was for conference games only. For the entire season, The Citadel’s havoc rate was 19.1%.

I compiled the havoc rate for the nine SoCon teams, counting all games played and not just league contests. In the table below, “TFL” stands for tackles for loss; “FF” refers to forced fumbles; and “INT/PBU” combines interceptions with passes broken up.

Team TFL FF INT/PBU Def. Plays Havoc rate
ETSU 92 10 69 840 20.4%
The Citadel 83 12 34 675 19.1%
Furman 59 11 40 680 16.2%
Chattanooga 57 16 52 779 16.0%
Wofford 70 8 48 806 15.6%
Samford 61 9 42 790 14.2%
WCU 62 11 45 837 14.1%
Mercer 60 10 40 834 13.2%
VMI 52 3 38 837 11.1%

 

Some of the raw totals were really close, as you can see.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2018: Miami (FL), Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Hurricanes had a havoc rate of 24.2%.

Louisville finished last in havoc rate, at 9.1%, well behind even Connecticut and Georgia State (which tied for next to last).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple (maybe too simple); I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2018: 26 (13 rushing, 13 passing)

In 2016, 19 of the 26 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2017, however, that number fell to just 17 of 36, as the Bulldogs were woeful in the Red Zone.

Last year, 18 of 26 big plays directly or indirectly resulted in TDs, as The Citadel all but matched its 2016 numbers.

The Bulldogs need to increase their number of long running plays this season. There should be at least two big plays each game on the ground. Three per game would be even better.

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2018: 37 (10 rushing, 27 passing)

In 2016, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns. In 2017, 25 of 32 allowed long gainers ultimately resulted in TDs.

Last year, 23 of 37 big plays allowed immediately or eventually led to touchdowns. That isn’t a terrible rate, but 37 sizable gains given up in eight league games is obviously too many. The Bulldogs cannot afford to give up major chunks of yardage like that.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 16 of 27 (59.3%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 6 for 14 converted against (49.9%

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 56.6%.

The increasing aggressiveness on 4th-down calls by the Bulldogs is noticeable and, in my opinion, promising.

For the season, The Citadel attempted 38 4th-down conversion tries, and was successful on 23 of them (60.5%). Nationally, only VMI (45) and Southern Utah (44) attempted more among FCS teams.

The Bulldogs’ 23 made conversions ranked second overall to Southern Utah (which converted 28 times, succeeding 63.6% of the time). VMI was 21 for 45 (46.7%).

North Dakota State led the subdivision in success rate on 4th down, at 85.7%; the Bison only attempted to convert 7 fourth downs, making 6 of them. Other high-percentage 4th-down teams: Princeton, Mercer, Dartmouth, and Furman. Others in the top ten included Kennesaw State (8th) and Western Carolina (9th).

Of the top nine teams, however, only Kennesaw State (34 tries) and Princeton (23) attempted as many as 20 4th-down attempts. Mercer had 10 conversion attempts; Furman, 13.

I think there is a real advantage to be gained by succeeding on 4th down, particularly in volume. For the proof of that, all anyone has to do is look at Army, which attempted 36 4th-down tries (tied for 4th in FBS) and converted an amazing 31 of them.

Making 86.1% of so many 4th-down attempts is incredible, and a big reason why the Black Knights won 11 games, especially when you factor in the fact that Army also led all of FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (at 57.1%).

Here is one way to think about it: Army attempted 196 third-down conversions last season, making 112 of them. However, the Black Knights eventually picked up a first down 31 times after not succeeding on third down. If you throw those into the mix, Army wound up moving the chains 73% of the time after facing a third down — which is a staggering rate.

One key reason for Army’s success on 4th down: 23 of those attempts were 4th-and-1 plays. The Black Knights made 21 of them.

Which team’s offenses weren’t good on 4th down? Well, Penn was 0 for 8 on 4th-down attempts. Then there was Howard, which converted a pedestrian 36.1% of the time, but went for it on 4th down a lot, winding up 13 for 36 on the season. Only VMI (24) had more failed 4th-down conversion attempts, and as noted above the Keydets tried more of them than any other team.

Lane Kiffin ordered up the most 4th-down tries in FBS, as his Florida Atlantic squad attempted 44 of them. At 28.6%, San Jose State had the worse 4th-down conversion rate in that subdivision.

Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.

John Heisman, who was possibly a bit overzealous when it came to ball control

When evaluating fumble stats, one of the guiding principles is that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 16 (lost 8)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 12 (recovered 5)

Obviously, the defense must work hard to get luckier. Perhaps the team can search local fields for four-leaf clovers.

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.55 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action: 2018: 43

The average number of total penalties against SoCon teams in league play was 48. The Citadel actually had the fewest penalties in the conference, but there was a catch: the Bulldogs were assessed more major infractions than most, resulting in 57.8 penalty yards per game (5th-most in the SoCon).

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2018: 37

For the first time in many years, the Bulldogs did not rank last in this category, as their opponents were actually called for more penalties last year than the norm. However, the penalty yardage assessed against The Citadel’s opposition was still below average.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2018, SoCon action: 4 (in eight games)

I think the Bulldogs should have gone for it on two of the four punts, to be honest, but in the end all of these moves more or less worked out for The Citadel. Perhaps the most questionable punt came in the season opener against Wofford, but the Terriers threw an interception just two plays later that set up a Bulldogs TD, so it is rather hard to argue with Brent Thompson’s decision.

The bottom line is that I’m glad there were only four.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2018, SoCon action: 2 (in eight games)

Don’t ask me why VMI punted on 4th and 15 at The Citadel’s 27-yard line late in the second quarter, then decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from its own 33 on the opening drive of the third quarter (in a tie game).

Ah, 4th down. That toddlin’ down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

On the spreadsheet I have categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in Southern Conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted on six of seven occasions in which it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. The exception came against Furman, a “desperation” attempt down two scores with less than a minute to play.

In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 9 times and went for it 5 times — against Wofford (2nd quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by three scores), Chattanooga (4th quarter, 4th-and-2, game tied), Mercer (1st quarter, 4th-and-1, down 7-0), East Tennessee State (less than 2 minutes to play, 4th-and-5, down by 3 points), and Samford (early in the 4th quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by 6).

The Citadel converted three of those. The successful pickup against Samford led to a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the very next play. The 4th-down pass attempt versus ETSU did not go nearly as well, to say the least. The run versus UTC would have resulted in a first down, except it was fumbled away.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 19 times and went for it on 4th down five times, making two of those. One of the two successful conversions was a “desperation” attempt.

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned earlier), one made field goal, and went for it nine times, converting seven of them. Six of the seven conversions were on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2; the other was on 4th-and-3. The two failed tries were on 4th-and-4 and 4th-and-8.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel attempted six field goals (making five), and went for it seven times (making a first down and/or touchdown on four of those).

That is an improvement over previous years. In the four preceding seasons, the Bulldogs were 2 for 8 going for it on 4th down in the Red Zone (not counting overtime games).

I also have listed what SoCon opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, it is fairly simple. Opponents punted on all eleven occasions they were faced with a fourth down.

In the Back Zone, there were 14 punts and two conversion attempts. Earlier, I mentioned VMI’s somewhat bizarre 4th-down try. The other attempt was a late-game “desperation” effort by Samford that was not successful.

In the Mid Zone, opponents punted seven times. There was one 4th-down attempt, a late-game try by Western Carolina while down 14 points. It was 4th-and-10, but the Catamounts pulled it off anyway, completing a 20-yard pass for the first down.

In the Front Zone, there was the aforementioned punt by VMI (from the Bulldogs’ 27), and five field goal attempts (two successful). On 4th-down tries, opponents were 4 for 8.

There were seven field goal attempts by the Bulldogs’ opponents in the Red Zone, with six of them sailing through the uprights. There were three 4th-down tries:

  • VMI, down 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, rushed for nine yards on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s 15-yard line (and scored on the next play).
  • Western Carolina, down 14 points with three minutes to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 4-yard line.
  • Samford, down 15 points with just over a minute to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 8-yard line.

(Note: as discussed before, overtime games are not included in these tabulations.)

A few years ago, The Citadel seemed to embark on a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

So what did the Bulldogs do last year? Well, they won the coin toss four times. On two of those occasions, both at home, they deferred — but on the road at VMI and at Western Carolina, they elected to receive the opening kickoff.

I’m not sure why, unless the home/road situation was a factor. However, it had not been an issue in prior seasons.

Someone should ask Brent Thompson about this. It is certainly something that must be investigated. If necessary, Congressional hearings should be held.

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 12 minutes less to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

This was an almost complete reversal from 2017, when home games were on average 11 minutes longer than road matchups. That is because last season’s road games averaged 3:15, while the year before they clocked in at just 2:54 — a 21-minute difference. Perhaps more teams having instant replay capability resulted in increased game length.

I’m ready for football season. Isn’t everybody?

Football attendance at The Citadel: an annual review (also including SoCon discussion and assorted FCS observations)

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. However, I’ll also delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2018

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2018 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

This year, I have also included the home win/loss records for each season.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact, if any, constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends.

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Clearly, there are sample-size issues when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. I’ve added the 2018 numbers, as part of an eight-year stretch:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 189-117 (61.8%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,978. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,978 since 2006.

The current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Obviously, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,343 was the second-lowest for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 54 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017.

As always, it is worth mentioning that the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948, when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened, through the 1963 season. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (It could be argued that I shouldn’t be overly confident of the attendance numbers that followed, either.)

From what I can tell, the largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was probably for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In case anyone was wondering, here are the top average attendance marks over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-18: 11,398

I wrote this in April of 2018:

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

Well, The Citadel now has a new school president, and it also has a permanent AD. Despite that, there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion about the stadium.

A scan of the minutes from recent meetings of the Board of Visitors doesn’t reveal anything, either. A couple of brief snippets from the January 25/26 minutes:

Mr. [Mike] Capaccio discussed the results of recruitment efforts, competitions and practice opportunities, and a student-athlete academic summary for fall of 2018, including degrees that the student-athletes are pursuing. His noted his goal is to “pay off off past debt and to move forward” and “our fans are loyal and regularly support” Citadel teams…

…Dr. [Jay] Dowd gave an overview of fundraising for 2018 for TCF [The Citadel Foundation], TCBF [The Citadel Brigadier Foundation], and an update on TCREF [The Citadel Real Estate Foundation]. Both TCF and TCBF achieved or exceeded their 2018 goals.

During the meeting on March 1, the field did get a mention:

The donor of the new artificial turf on the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium has opted for a better quality product which has delayed the beginning of the project.

I wish there could be a little more “buzz” about the stadium, to be honest. I’ve been told that it is going to happen, which is good. It would be a touch more reassuring, though, if someone in a position of authority put his or her name on a public statement that said something along the lines of “We’ll have the new East stands ready to go by [a year in the very near future].”

Now it is time to take a look at FCS attendance across the board.

2018 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Jackson State led the division in average home attendance, at 24,770 (four games). That was higher than 50 FBS programs, including several bowl teams and one Power 5 school (Kansas).

JSU also had a higher average home attendance than the school average for four FBS conferences (Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC). Overall, Jackson State ranked 81st in NCAA home football attendance, regardless of division.

Montana was second overall in FCS, averaging 24,677 (six games). Four FCS programs ranked in the overall top 100 in home attendance — Jackson State, Montana, James Madison, and Southern.

Those four joined North Dakota State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, seven FCS schools hit that standard.

The Citadel ranked 24th out of 125 FCS schools, and third in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina and Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years.

Here is a table that includes all 125 FCS squads (including “transitioning” North Alabama) and their respective home attendance totals/averages/rankings for the 2018 season:

Team G Total Att. Average Rank
Jackson State 4 99,079 24,770 1
Montana 6 148,064 24,677 2
James Madison 6 125,466 20,911 3
Southern 4 75,212 18,803 4
North Dakota State 10 181,055 18,106 5
Florida A&M 6 107,239 17,873 6
Jacksonville State 6 101,421 16,904 7
Montana State 7 115,299 16,471 8
Delaware 6 97,791 16,299 9
Alabama State 4 64,293 16,073 10
North Carolina A&T 5 77,468 15,494 11
Alcorn State 6 91,103 15,184 12
Alabama A&M 4 50,086 12,522 13
Youngstown State 6 69,322 11,554 14
Idaho 5 56,400 11,280 15
McNeese State 5 54,814 10,963 16
Western Carolina 5 52,900 10,580 17
Tennessee State 4 41,688 10,422 18
South Dakota State 7 71,243 10,178 19
New Hampshire 6 60,921 10,154 20
Harvard 5 49,211 9,842 21
Mercer 5 49,015 9,803 22
South Dakota 5 47,098 9,420 23
The Citadel 5 46,715 9,343 24
Northern Iowa 6 56,020 9,337 25
North Dakota 5 46,682 9,336 26
Illinois State 6 55,561 9,260 27
William & Mary 4 36,922 9,231 28
South Carolina State 5 45,871 9,174 29
Abilene Christian 5 44,953 8,991 30
Norfolk State 6 53,211 8,869 31
North Carolina Central 5 44,318 8,864 32
Idaho State 5 44,134 8,827 33
Chattanooga 5 43,761 8,752 34
Prairie View A&M 4 34,620 8,655 35
UC Davis 5 42,529 8,506 36
East Tennessee State 6 50,619 8,437 37
Elon 5 41,336 8,267 38
Weber State 7 57,817 8,260 39
Southern Utah 5 41,019 8,204 40
Grambling State 4 32,738 8,185 41
Richmond 5 40,428 8,086 42
Eastern Washington 8 63,795 7,974 43
Sam Houston State 5 39,554 7,911 44
Stony Brook 5 39,068 7,814 45
Northwestern State 5 38,914 7,783 46
Penn 5 38,839 7,768 47
Nicholls State 6 46,180 7,697 48
Central Arkansas 5 38,416 7,683 49
Yale 5 38,286 7,657 50
Austin Peay 5 37,810 7,562 51
Sacramento State 4 29,850 7,463 52
Missouri State 6 44,432 7,405 53
Eastern Kentucky 6 43,775 7,296 54
Maine 5 35,468 7,094 55
Lamar 6 42,462 7,077 56
Northern Arizona 5 35,178 7,036 57
North Alabama 5 33,774 6,755 58
Princeton 6 39,371 6,562 59
Southern Illinois 5 32,786 6,557 60
Cal Poly 6 39,175 6,529 61
Hampton 5 32,634 6,527 62
Murray State 5 30,945 6,189 63
Furman 4 24,555 6,139 64
Towson 6 36,681 6,114 65
Bethune-Cookman 4 24,310 6,078 66
Lafayette 5 29,219 5,844 67
Cornell 5 29,121 5,824 68
Tennessee Tech 5 29,053 5,811 69
Wofford 6 34,837 5,806 70
Kennesaw State 7 40,295 5,756 71
Howard 4 22,806 5,702 72
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5 28,435 5,687 73
Columbia 5 28,435 5,687 74
Villanova 5 28,303 5,661 75
Indiana State 5 28,283 5,657 76
Holy Cross 5 27,614 5,523 77
Southeastern Louisiana 5 27,477 5,495 78
Samford 5 27,131 5,426 79
Eastern Illinois 5 26,715 5,343 80
Stephen F. Austin 4 21,189 5,297 81
Campbell 7 35,405 5,058 82
Rhode Island 5 24,662 4,932 83
Colgate 5 24,414 4,883 84
Lehigh 5 24,271 4,854 85
Morgan State 5 23,406 4,681 86
Savannah State 5 23,243 4,649 87
Morehead State 6 27,505 4,584 88
Albany (NY) 6 27,096 4,516 89
Southeast Missouri State 6 26,990 4,498 90
Texas Southern 5 21,773 4,355 91
Northern Colorado 6 25,293 4,216 92
Brown 5 20,563 4,113 93
VMI 5 20,556 4,111 94
Dartmouth 5 20,034 4,007 95
Fordham 6 23,781 3,964 96
Mississippi Valley State 4 15,580 3,895 97
Portland State 5 18,993 3,799 98
Central Connecticut State 5 18,490 3,698 99
Davidson 7 25,884 3,698 100
Incarnate Word 4 14,383 3,596 101
Bryant 5 17,831 3,566 102
Western Illinois 5 15,897 3,179 103
Gardner-Webb 6 18,842 3,140 104
Butler 5 14,997 2,999 105
Dayton 5 14,797 2,959 106
UT Martin 5 14,430 2,886 107
Sacred Heart 5 13,746 2,749 108
Monmouth 6 16,463 2,744 109
Bucknell 5 13,144 2,629 110
Wagner 4 9,070 2,268 111
Valparaiso 5 11,264 2,253 112
Houston Baptist 6 13,304 2,217 113
San Diego 5 10,653 2,131 114
Presbyterian 5 10,287 2,057 115
Stetson 6 12,008 2,001 116
Jacksonville 5 9,945 1,989 117
Drake 5 9,201 1,840 118
Georgetown 5 9,201 1,840 119
Charleston Southern 5 8,820 1,764 120
Marist 5 8,657 1,731 121
Delaware State 4 6,836 1,709 122
Duquesne 6 9,802 1,634 123
Robert Morris 5 7,614 1,523 124
St. Francis (PA) 6 7,804 1,301 125

Odds and ends:

– Furman’s home average attendance fell from 7,775 to 6,139, almost back to where FU was in 2016 (5,771). Despite that decline, Furman still outdrew Wofford for a second consecutive season, after a four-year period in which the Spartanburg school had the higher average attendance.

Of course, Furman lost a home game last year when its matchup against Colgate was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. As for Wofford, hosting a first-round playoff game did not help its attendance numbers (as only 2,157 fans were at Gibbs Stadium to see the Terriers play Elon).

– After an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest in 2017, South Carolina State slipped back to an average of 9,174 fans per game last year. While still good enough to finish in the FCS top 30, it was a per-game decline of 2,709 supporters.

SCSU’s average attendance was significantly affected by a rescheduled game against North Carolina Central, which was played in November instead of its original September 15 date. The matchup (one of many postponed by Hurricane Florence) drew only 3,996 fans.

– Three Division II schools (Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Grand Valley State) all had higher home attendance averages than four FBS institutions (Coastal Carolina, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ball State).

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (4,223); Newberry (2,971); North Greenville (3,243); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,998); Chowan (2,981); Catawba (1,903); Carson-Newman (3,639); Valdosta State (4,890); Mars Hill (3,166); Shorter (1,662).

– The three lowest average home attendance totals in FCS last year: Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA), all of which play in the Northeast Conference. Duquesne won that league and its automatic bid to the playoffs.

– The lowest average home attendance for any NCAA school last season was at Earlham College (IN), of Division III, with 188 fans per contest. Earlham, which has not won a football game since 2013, suspended its football program after last season, and will not compete in 2019.

Western New Mexico had the lowest attendance in Division II, averaging 292 patrons per game. There is a discrepancy between the NCAA’s numbers and the school’s, as Western New Mexico’s statistical attendance summary is incomplete, as this boxscore may indicate. The Mustangs finished with an 0-10 record.

There were 669 football-playing colleges and universities in the NCAA’s three divisions last season.

The average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games) was 7,611, the second consecutive year league attendance has declined:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611

As was the case in 2017, East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,437 fans per game. League attendance could be easily broken down into two tiers, with a significant difference in average attendance between 5th-place ETSU and 6th-place Furman.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,325, though the median attendance was 6,527. Thus, the SoCon was above the national average in terms of attendance (6th out of 13 FCS conferences).

In terms of attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams — the average attendance was 7,697, a decline of 130 fans per contest from 2017. The median attendance in this category for 2018 was 8,069, an increase of 286 fans per game from the previous season.

Eight of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people. The most attended SoCon matchup last season was VMI’s game at Western Carolina on September 2, with an announced attendance of 12,759.

VMI also was involved in the lowest-attended league matchup, on September 14, a home game against East Tennessee State that drew only 2,764 fans. It should be noted that ETSU-VMI was played one day earlier than scheduled, on a Friday afternoon, because of (yet again) Hurricane Florence.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • Western  Carolina: 10,197
  • The Citadel: 9,709
  • Mercer: 9,703
  • Chattanooga: 8,685
  • East Tennessee State: 8,400
  • Wofford: 6,751
  • Furman: 6,138
  • Samford: 5,457
  • VMI: 4,234

The Citadel was easily the top overall road draw in league play last season, with the Bulldogs playing before an average of 9,400 fans in four conference contests away from home. Three of those four games (against Wofford, VMI, and Mercer) featured the top home crowd for The Citadel’s opponents in 2018. That is no surprise, given the Bulldogs’ fan base.

Samford finished second in this category (league road attendance average of 9,094). SU was the only other conference team to be the top opposition draw for multiple conference games, with Devlin Hodges and company drawing the best home crowds of the season for Chattanooga and The Citadel.

Western Carolina, which led the conference in average home attendance, was at the bottom of average attendance for league road games, at 6,420.

The average attendance at FCS games decreased by 4.5 percent in the 2018 season, reflecting a continued problem in recent years…

…Seven of the top 13 attendances came from HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. That helped the Southwestern Athletic Conference to average an FCS-high 15,240 fans per game, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ranking third out of 13 conferences at 9,815. The Missouri Valley Football Conference was second at 9,864.

On the other levels of NCAA football, the average attendance in the FBS was down 0.8 percent; Division II, 6 percent; and Division III, 9 percent.

I think it is interesting that while FBS attendance decreased only marginally last season, there was a substantial decline in attendance for FCS, D-2, and D-3 (and that the dropoff got worse further down the divisional totem pole).

One of the popular theories about declining attendance revolves around fan access to games via TV/streaming. However, very few D-2/D-3 games are televised, and streaming for teams in those divisions is certainly not as widespread as it is in FBS/FCS — yet numerous schools in D-2/D-3 have eroding attendance numbers.

Incidentally, the SWAC and the MEAC were the only two FCS leagues that did not see a decline in attendance. Some of the conferences really took a hit in 2018 (particularly the Ivy League, Southland, and Patriot League).

There are no easy answers to the attendance conundrum. However, there is consensus on the surest way to maintain and/or increase attendance. A former assistant coach at The Citadel said it best:

Just win, baby.

Football season is getting closer…

2019 preseason college football rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

A few links of interest:

Hero Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 (The Citadel is ranked 25th)

Hero Sports FCS Preseason All-American teams (Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell in on the third team)

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

 

It must be June, because the college football preview magazines are on the street. What follows is a quick review of the mags’ rankings from The Citadel’s perspective, with a few other tidbits thrown in for good measure.

Not included in this writeup: my annual look at the preseason Massey Ratings. I’ll discuss those in a future post.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 has James Madison at #1, with North Dakota State ranked second. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. Four of those five teams were in the magazine’s preseason top 5 last year as well.

Wofford is ranked #8, and Furman is #14. Others of interest: Towson (9th), Elon (18th), and North Carolina A&T (19th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger (named the SoCon’s top NFL prospect), East Tennessee State defensive back Tyree Robinson, and Furman specialist Grayson Atkins (honored as a placekicker on this list).

This year’s SoCon preview was authored by Pat Yasinskas, who is currently based in Tampa. In his reportorial career, Yasinskas (a native of Pennsylvania) has primarily written about the NFL, covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and the NFC South for ESPN.com.

To be honest, I am unsure how much time the graduate of Saint Leo University has spent following the Southern Conference. I found two twitter accounts for him, both inactive.

At any rate, the league preseason rankings for S&S:

1 – Wofford
2 – Furman
3 – East Tennessee State
4 – Chattanooga
5 – Mercer
6 – Samford
7 – The Citadel
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

With regards to The Citadel, Yaskinskas writes that the Bulldogs have “a chance to be competitive, mainly because 10 starters return on offense. The development of quarterback Brandon Rainey will be a key.” He also references new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South. Monmouth is the pick to win that league instead of Kennesaw State, which might raise a few eyebrows (and the Owls did not make Street & Smith‘s preseason top 25).

Towson is ranked second in the CAA, while Elon is picked to finish fifth.

S&S has South Carolina State finishing fourth in the MEAC, with North Carolina A&T the favorite in that conference. Other top-dog choices in FCS leagues include Eastern Washington, James Madison, Princeton, North Dakota State, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Colgate, San Diego, and Nicholls.

In the shadowy world of FBS, Georgia Tech (which will host The Citadel on September 14) is projected to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5:  South Dakota State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, and UC Davis.

Wofford is ranked #13, East Tennessee State #17, and Furman #20. Other teams of note include Towson (6th) and North Carolina A&T (22nd).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina, who is listed not as a quarterback but as an all-purpose player. Two ETSU defensive stalwarts, defensive lineman Nasir Player and the aforementioned Tyree Robinson, are also on the first team. (Player is a product of Ridge View High School in Columbia.)

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is the magazine’s first-team quarterback and its preseason MVP for the entire division. His teammate, placekicker Aidan O’Neill, is also on the first team.

The magazine also has a preseason second team, which includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger and Furman “bandit” linebacker Adrian Hope. Towson running back/kick returner Shane Simpson is the all-purpose designee on the second team.

The national preview (which focuses on North Dakota State) was written by George Gordon. I could not find any background information on him. I am assuming he is not related to any of the Civil War/British generals who also share his name; he presumably has no association with well-known law enforcement officer James W. Gordon or noted library sciences advocate Barbara Gordon, either.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

1 – Wofford
2 – East Tennessee State
3 – Furman
4 – Samford
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – Western Carolina
8 – The Citadel
9 – VMI

A brief blurb about The Citadel in the magazine states that defensive lineman Joseph Randolph II is “one of the league’s underrated players”.

On the one hand, ETSU is picked to finish higher in the league standings by Lindy’s than just about any other source. On the other, the magazine references Logan Marchi as returning at quarterback for the Buccaneers, which will not be the case.

Charleston Southern is the preseason #5 team in the Big South, while South Carolina State is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.

Teams expected by Lindy’s to win their respective FCS leagues include Colgate, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls, North Carolina A&T, North Dakota State, Princeton, San Diego, Southern, Towson, and UC Davis.

Georgia Tech is picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and is ranked the #90 FBS team overall.

As was the case last year, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football has again written the magazine’s national preview of the division, with a Top 25 ranking list, an All-America team, and projected playoff qualifiers. The entire section takes up only four pages in Athlon‘s 304-page tome.

Haley’s top 5: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and UC Davis.

Wofford is 10th in this poll, and Furman is 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon squads projected to make the FCS playoffs, and their meeting in Spartanburg on November 16 is one of ten “must-see matchups” listed by the magazine.

Also ranked:  Towson (#11) and Elon (#21). Both are also expected to advance to postseason play as at-large picks out of the CAA, with James Madison the pick to win that league. Other conference favorites include Colgate, Duquesne, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Dakota State, Nicholls, San Diego, and North Carolina A&T.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team features just one SoCon player, with Nasir Player of ETSU again receiving recognition from a major publication. As was the case with Lindy’s, Towson’s Aidan O’Neill is the placekicker.

Georgia Tech fares no better in Athlon than it does in Street & Smith‘s or Lindy’s, as the Yellow Jackets are picked to occupy the cellar of the ACC Coastal Division (with a 4-8 overall record). The preseason national FBS ranking for Georgia Tech by the magazine is #75.

A couple of other notes:

– Phil Steele is not releasing an FCS preview magazine this season. I think the nation will survive.

– Athlon features a list of “The 100 Twitter Accounts to Follow” for college football. Shockingly, @SandlapperSpike did not make the cut. Clearly this an outrage.

While quite a few individuals on Athlon‘s list are represented on my own timeline, there are several people mentioned by the magazine that you couldn’t pay me to follow — in particular, the business/media analysis twitter picks, namely the deadly duo of Darren Rovell and Richard Deitsch. Frankly, life is too short to follow either one of those two killjoys.

Finally, my favorite tweet over the last week or so:

A glance at the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Also of interest from around the internet:

How will new NCAA rules on redshirting and transfers affect The Citadel?

New turf (and stands) to come at Johnson Hagood Stadium

Dates that FCS leagues will release their respective preseason polls (and often, preseason all-conference teams as well)

Cadets (not cats) and bulldogs living together

This year, the SoCon as a whole will have its usual share of games against teams from the FBS ranks, along with quite a few matchups with FCS outfits in other conferences. As was the case last season, there are four games against non-D1 schools, all from Division II.

Playing non-D1 teams out of conference does not help individual schools (or the league, for that matter) when it comes to making the FCS playoffs. It means the SoCon team in question will have one fewer opportunity to post a win against a D-1 team.

Of course, you could make the same argument when it comes to playing teams from the FBS, particularly the P5 conferences. Those matchups also tend to reduce the number of chances a team has to win a game versus a D-1 opponent — unless, that is, the underdog actually beats the team from the FBS.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games as part of an 11-game regular-season schedule. Each squad has at least one matchup versus an FBS opponent. VMI has two such contests, which seems less than ideal for the Keydets.

However, neither of the FBS teams playing VMI are from P5 leagues. Two other SoCon teams, Mercer and Wofford, also avoid the five major conferences this season. The other six schools each go on the road to play either an ACC or SEC team.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s not as easy to answer this season as it was last year (when Mercer played Auburn and Alabama). After taking the opposition, location, and schedule placement into consideration, I tend to give the nod to Furman. You could also make a case for The Citadel.

Around the league…

Chattanooga:

Last year, UTC’s first three games were against non-conference foes. Chattanooga lost all of them, and never really recovered. This season, the Mocs play two of their three non-league contests in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Chattanooga opens at home (on a Thursday night) versus OVC cellar-dweller Tennessee Tech. That is a matchup UTC needs to win.

After a game at The Citadel, Chattanooga goes on the road again to face UT Martin. The Skyhawks beat UTC 21-7 last season at Finley Stadium and are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack squad in the OVC this year, so that could be a tough game for the Mocs. It may also prove to be a pivotal contest in Chattanooga’s season, particularly with a matchup against Samford on tap for the following week.

Chattanooga finishes its regular season slate by travelling to bucolic Columbia, SC, to play the South Carolina Gamecocks (and pick up a check for $450,000.00). This is the fourth consecutive season South Carolina has played a SoCon school the week before playing Clemson; it has won two of the prior three contests in the “SoCon-SEC challenge”, having outlasted Wofford and Western Carolina the past two years.

East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens with a home game versus Mars Hill, a D-2 school that went 3-7 last season. Mars Hill played one FCS team in 2017, North Carolina A&T, and lost 56-0.

The following week, the opponent is a little tougher, as ETSU travels to Knoxville to play Tennessee, the first FBS team the Buccaneers will have played since re-starting football. It will also be the first time ETSU has ever faced the Vols on the gridiron.

Midway through the year, East Tennessee State hosts Gardner-Webb for its Homecoming game. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were 1-10 last year. This is a contest ETSU could (and probably should) win.

Both in terms of opponent quality and placement, ETSU’s administration did a solid job in putting together its 2018 slate for a still-young program. The only negative is having a bye week just before the final game of the season, but that was probably dictated by the league, and finding a home non-conference game on that date was likely close to impossible.

Furman:

The Paladins get their non-conference slate out of the way early, starting the season with three consecutive out-of-league opponents. Furman opens at Clemson, as difficult a first game as any team has in the country.

Furman then faces Elon for the third time in less than a year. The two teams split their two meetings in 2017, with the Paladins winning at Elon in a playoff matchup.

This season, Elon is expected to be an upper-echelon CAA team again, with 18 returning starters. Lindy’s has the Phoenix ranked #21 in FCS in its preseason poll, while Street & Smith’s and Athlon rank Elon 9th and 10th, respectively.

FU hosts Colgate to round out the OOC schedule. Last year, the Paladins made the trip to upstate New York and came away with a 45-14 victory. That game jump-started a seven-game winning streak for Furman.

While the Raiders are the early favorite to win the Patriot League in 2018, it would be a surprise if Furman were to lose to Colgate, especially on what could be a hot mid-September day in Greenville (with a 1:00 pm ET kickoff). That being said, last year the Raiders did win their season opener on the road, against a then-ranked Cal Poly.

Mercer:

Mercer opens with a game at Memphis, one of the better programs in the Group of 5. The Tigers won 10 games last season, and both Athlon and Street & Smith’s picked Memphis to win the AAC West this year.

One potential advantage for Mercer: the Tigers’ game the following week is at Navy. It would not be a surprise if the primary focus of the Memphis coaching staff leading up to the season was on the Midshipmen’s triple option attack, and not so much on the Bears.

MU plays Jacksonville in the second week of the season, the second year in a row Mercer has played the Dolphins. Last year, the Bears beat JU 48-7.

The Bears’ final non-conference matchup is an interesting one, an October 13 game at Yale. The Elis won the Ivy League in 2017 and are favored to win the title again this year. Yale has a big game at Penn on the Friday after playing MU, which might be yet another potential scheduling boost for Mercer.

The real question, though, is this: just how good are Ivy League teams? Last year, the Ivy League was 17-6 versus FCS opponents, but more than two-thirds of those games came against Patriot League and Pioneer League teams. The Ivies rarely venture out of the northeast, with Yale’s non-conference schedule last year (at Lehigh, at Fordham, Holy Cross) fairly typical.

Samford:

The Birmingham Bulldogs begin their 2018 campaign on a Thursday night. They will presumably enjoy a victory over Shorter University, a D-2 school that has gone 0-11 each of the last two seasons.

Shorter lost its one game versus a D-1 opponent last year, to Gardner-Webb, by a 42-14 score. That was G-W’s only win of the season. In 2016, Chattanooga beat Shorter 66-0.

After that, though, Samford’s non-league slate is very tough. SU’s game the following week is at Florida State. Samford gets a little bit of a break in that FSU opens with a Monday night game against Virginia Tech.

On September 29, Kennesaw State hosts Samford. The two teams played twice last season, with SU winning the opener at home and then losing in the playoffs at KSU.

Kennesaw State is the consensus pick to win the Big South again this season, and is rated very highly by several national outlets (including a preseason FCS ranking of #3 by Hero Sports). The Owls may be the most difficult FCS non-league opponent faced by any SoCon team in 2018.

I think Samford’s non-conference schedule is problematic for a playoff contender. If SU loses at Kennesaw State, it is likely Chris Hatcher’s crew will finish with no D-1 wins outside of league play. It might not be easy for Samford to get a postseason berth if it doesn’t garner the SoCon’s automatic bid.

The Citadel:

The Citadel opens its season with two conference games, unlike 2017, when the Bulldogs began play on the gridiron with Newberry and Presbyterian. In 2016, though, The Citadel also started its campaign with two league contests. That was a very good year for the program, so fans of the Bulldogs will be hoping a similar beginning will lead to similar results.

After games against Wofford (on the road) and Chattanooga (at home), The Citadel will host Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers should be a top-3 team in the Big South this season, albeit not on the same level with prohibitive conference favorite Kennesaw State.

On September 29, the Bulldogs will journey north to Johnny Unitas Stadium to play Towson, the first football game between the two schools. Towson struggled last season after its starting quarterback and running back both suffered injuries in the season opener, finishing 5-6.

This year, opinions on the Tigers appear to be mixed. Towson returns 20 starters (including the aforementioned running back, Shane Simpson).

There are three candidates to start at QB, including incoming transfer Tommy Flacco, younger brother of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. There is no early word on whether or not the younger Flacco is elite.

The Citadel’s final non-conference game of the season is a November 17 matchup against Alabama. As has been well documented, Alabama has never beaten The Citadel in football.

VMI:

The Keydets travel to Toledo to begin the 2018 season. Last year, the Rockets won 11 games and the MAC crown. This season, Toledo should be one of the three best teams in its league, though VMI may benefit from the fact the Rockets have to replace last year’s starting quarterback and running back. VMI could use a little beneficence.

While a fair number of teams play two or three non-conference games in September, the Keydets actually play two of their three OOC games in November.

On November 3, VMI plays Tusculum, a D-2 team. Tusculum was 5-5 last season, 3-4 in the South Atlantic Conference.

The Pioneers haven’t played a D-1 squad since losing 62-21 to Georgia Southern in 2011. The game versus Tusculum will probably be the only 2018 matchup in which VMI is favored. It should be noted, however, that last season Catawba, like Tusculum a member of the South Atlantic Conference, beat the Keydets 27-20.

VMI’s final regular-season game will be at Old Dominion, now in its fifth season as an FBS school. The Monarchs finished 5-7 last season but return 18 starters from that team, including sophomore quarterback Steven Williams. The left-hander started the final seven games of 2017 despite not turning 18 years old until November.

Western Carolina:

WCU opens with a home game versus D-2 Newberry, which finished 5-6 last season, just one year removed from making the Division II playoffs. Last year, the Wolves also played their first game of the season versus a SoCon opponent, losing 31-14 to The Citadel.

After the Newberry game, Western Carolina has a poorly-timed bye week, and then goes on the road to play Gardner-Webb (which faces three SoCon teams in 2018, with two of those contests in Boiling Springs). Western Carolina also played at G-W in 2017, winning 42-27, the third consecutive victory for the Catamounts over the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

WCU then plays all eight of its SoCon opponents over an eight-week stretch. After the last of those matchups (a home contest versus Wofford), the Catamounts conclude regular season play with a game at North Carolina. It will be only the second time WCU has ever faced the Tar Heels (but the second straight year they will have met).

Western Carolina has playoff aspirations, and thus is another team that might have been better served by scheduling a second FCS opponent out of conference instead of playing a D-2 team. The main difference between WCU and Samford in this respect is that the Catamounts’ non-league FCS game is (at least on paper) an easier matchup than Samford’s.

A better idea for WCU’s schedule would have been to replace Newberry with, say, Davidson (one of the Catamounts’ opponents last season). Davidson’s football team is almost certainly not as good as Newberry’s, but the Wildcats are a Division I school. Every D-1 win helps, even those against non-scholarship programs.

Wofford:

The Terriers start their 2018 season with two league battles, playing The Citadel and VMI, both at home. Last season, Wofford also opened with two conference games, playing Furman in Spartanburg and then travelling to Mercer.

After the two contests against the military colleges, Wofford travels to Wyoming. At first glance, it seems to be one of the more unlikely FBS vs. FCS matchups of the season. The two schools can’t have much in common, other than both having names beginning with the letter “W”.

However, Wyoming does have a brief history of playing SoCon schools, dating back to the 1951 Gator Bowl, when the Cowboys played Washington and Lee. Other Wyoming-SoCon matchups include games against Furman (2001), The Citadel (2002), and Appalachian State (2004).

Wyoming could go bowling (or maybe that’s “Bohling”) for a third straight season, despite losing star quarterback Josh Allen. However, Wofford does have an 11% win probability in this matchup, according to projected S&P+, which isn’t bad for an FCS team playing at an FBS squad, and a couple of time zones away from home to boot.

Wofford has another non-conference road game the week after making the trip to Laramie. This matchup is much closer to home, however, as the Terriers play at Gardner-Webb.

G-W played Wofford last year, too, and the Terriers had to hang on to win 27-24 in Gibbs Stadium. The Runnin’ Bulldogs missed a long field goal try late in the game that would have tied the contest.

Incidentally, Gardner-Webb (which at this rate is closing in on honorary SoCon member status) played none other than Wyoming in 2017, losing 27-0.

Wofford’s final non-league game of the year is also the final regular season game on its slate. The Terriers host Presbyterian on November 17, the 85th meeting on the gridiron between the two schools.

PC was 4-7 last season. In November, Presbyterian announced that its football program would move to non-scholarship status by 2020. Some of the Blue Hose’s players left the team following that announcement, including running back Torrance Marable, arguably PC’s best player (he wound up transferring to Coastal Carolina).

A brief overview of the FCS as a whole…

This season, 21 FCS schools have scheduled two games against FBS opposition. Only one, Southern Utah, will face two P5 teams (the Thunderbirds play Oregon State and Arizona).

In all, FCS teams will play FBS schools 111 times, with 48 of those being P5 opponents.

The Big Sky and MVFC probably have the most aggressive slate of non-conference matchups. Eight of the Big Sky’s FBS games are versus P5 teams. The MVFC also has eight P5 games being played by its ten member schools.

The Big Sky has 14 FBS games in all, a number matched by the SWAC and MEAC. In addition, the Big Sky (with 13 schools this season) will be featured in several prominent non-league FCS vs. FCS matchups, including Northern Iowa-Montana and South Dakota-Weber State, not to mention Eastern Washington-Northern Arizona (which is a non-conference game despite both being Big Sky schools).

The Southland has 13 FBS games (six* versus P5 schools), the CAA has 12 (six P5 matchups), and the OVC and SoCon each have 10 (five against P5 teams for the OVC, six for the SoCon).

*counting BYU as a Power 5 opponent, which is open to debate

No team from the Ivy League or the Pioneer League will play an FBS squad in 2018.

Also not facing an FBS opponent: traditional FCS powers North Dakota State and Jacksonville State. NDSU will instead enjoy seven regular-season home games this season (including a Homecoming game against Delaware). It isn’t easy these days for the Bison to hook up with an FBS team.

JSU has quality non-conference FCS bookends to its schedule, facing North Carolina A&T in its opener (which is also the FCS Kickoff) and concluding the regular season with a game versus Kennesaw State at SunTrust Park.

There are just a couple of months left before the season kicks off. Be patient, everyone…

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017: an annual review

This post will cover home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about several times before. I’m also going to discuss NCAA football attendance in general (including FCS and SoCon-specific numbers), because I think it is important to consider the program’s attendance issues in context with the rest of the sport.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2017 season.

The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1992 (69.44%, the highest percentage for that category since 1964) is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. Incidentally, the second-highest percentage in this category since 1964 happens to be the overall record for The Citadel’s most recent three campaigns.

I include those categories primarily to see what impact, if any, constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends.

In past years, I’ve noted that walk-up sales appear to have had an impact on yearly totals; in other words, if the team is good, it is reflected in that season’s attendance. This is certainly not a spectacular revelation, but the numbers for The Citadel appear to be higher than expected when compared to attendance for the following year (when you might naturally expect an increase in attendance as a result of the previous season’s on-field success).

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for discrepancies when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but it strikes me as something worth following. I’ve added the 2017 numbers, so there is now a seven-year period to check:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 187-114 (62.1%). The average home attendance over that time period is 14,055. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 14,055 since 2006.

As the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000 due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017, it will be a while before The Citadel can expect to enjoy a season with average game attendance in excess of 14,055. Whether or not surpassing that benchmark is even realistic going forward, regardless of the size of the facility, is an open question.

Last season’s average home attendance of 8,994 was the lowest for any year since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined (in other words, the lowest in the last 54 seasons).

Note: that cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means that years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon championship) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948 (when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened) through the 1963 season. “Official” attendance figures prior to 1948 are (for the most part) even more dubious.

Now let’s look at FCS attendance as a whole.

2017 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Montana easily led the division in average home attendance again, with 25,535 (six games). That was higher than 45 FBS programs, and higher than the average home attendance for three FBS conferences (Sun Belt, MAC, C-USA).

James Madison was second overall, averaging 21,724. That included nine games, three of which were playoff contests (all of these numbers include playoff games).

Without the postseason matchups (and their generally lackluster attendance numbers), JMU would have averaged 24,841 fans per home game.

Seven FCS schools averaged more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, five FCS schools hit that mark (after eight had done so in 2015).

The Citadel ranked 34th out of 123 FCS schools, but only fourth in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina, Mercer, and Chattanooga). Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 1st in attendance among fellow league teams. It was the first time in the last 12 years that The Citadel did not finish in the top 30 in FCS attendance.

Here is a table that includes various FCS squads and their respective attendance totals:

Team G Total Average FCS Rank
Montana 6 141,212 23,535 1
James Madison 9 195,514 21,724 2
Florida A&M 4 76,190 19,048 3
Yale 5 94,699 18,940 4
Montana State 6 111,702 18,617 5
Jacksonville State 6 110,328 18,388 6
North Dakota State 9 164,996 18,333 7
Prairie View A&M 5 89,016 17,803 8
Delaware 6 99,890 16,648 9
North Carolina A&T 5 78,486 15,697 10
South Carolina State 5 59,414 11,883 19
Western Carolina 5 52,735 10,547 23
Mercer 5 52,725 10,545 24
Harvard 5 52,055 10,411 27
Eastern Washington 5 50,617 10,123 28
South Dakota 5 46,736 9,347 32
Chattanooga 5 45,848 9,170 33
The Citadel 5 44,972 8,994 34
Texas Southern 5 43,994 8,799 35
Austin Peay 5 41,708 8,342 39
Norfolk State 6 49,908 8,318 40
Sacramento State 6 49,891 8,315 41
William and Mary 5 41,182 8,236 44
Richmond 5 40,925 8,185 45
East Tennessee State 6 48,050 8,008 46
Nicholls 6 47,295 7,883 47
Furman 5 38,875 7,775 48
Princeton 5 36,831 7,366 51
Lehigh 6 42,827 7,138 56
Elon 6 42,118 7,020 58
Kennesaw State 7 46,874 6,696 63
Wofford 6 38,831 6,472 68
Villanova 5 28,244 5,649 74
Campbell 6 33,276 5,546 77
Towson 5 26,884 5,377 80
Samford 6 32,024 5,337 81
Penn 5 26,374 5,275 82
Gardner-Webb 5 23,017 4,603 90
VMI 5 21,623 4,325 94
Savannah State 4 17,046 4,262 95
Davidson 6 20,119 3,353 100
Charleston Southern 5 11,727 2,345 110
Presbyterian 8 18,558 2,320 111
Georgetown 5 10,829 2,166 116
Delaware State 4 8,432 2,108 119
Jacksonville 6 12,536 2,089 120
Robert Morris 5 10,099 2,020 121
Stetson 6 11,647 1,941 122
Saint Francis (PA) 5 8,065 1,613 123

Apologies if that table is a bit too long, but I was trying to include a varied cross-section of FCS teams. I didn’t want to list all 123, but I wound up including 49 of them anyway…

Observations:

  • Yale ranked 3rd overall in FCS attendance in 2015, 35th in 2016, and 4th in 2017. Why the yo-yo effect? It’s all about the location of the Harvard-Yale game, which was played at the Yale Bowl in both of the odd-numbered years. Last season, that matchup drew 51,426 fans.
  • The lowest average home attendance for a team that made the 2017 playoffs: San Diego (2,142, which ranked 117th). Lowest average home attendance for a team that actually hosted a playoff game last season: Wofford.
  • Furman’s home attendance jumped over 2,000 fans per game in 2017, from 5,771 to 7,775. For the first time in four seasons, Furman outdrew Wofford.
  • Montana and Montana State combined to average 21,076 per home contest. No other western school packed in more than 10,123 fans per game (Eastern Washington). Keep in mind that neither Montana nor Montana State made the FCS playoffs last year; the two Treasure State institutions had a combined record of 12-10.
  • North Alabama, which is transitioning from Division II to D-1 and will be in the Big South for football, averaged 7,498 fans per home game last season.
  • Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,180); Newberry (3,212); North Greenville (3,147); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,330); Chowan (2,904); Catawba (2,472); Carson-Newman (3,109).
  • Hampton, which is also moving to the Big South (assuming its nasty fight with the MEAC is finally over), averaged 7,088 fans per home contest in 2017.
  • Campbell is adding football scholarships and moving its football program from the Pioneer League to the Big South (you will need a scorecard to keep up with the Big South for the next few years). Average home attendance for Campbell last season: 5,546.
  • Moving the other direction, Presbyterian is going to be playing football in the Pioneer League, leaving the Big South in that sport. PC averaged only 2,320 fans per game last season. On the bright side, that isn’t out of line with its soon-to-be colleagues in the Pioneer League, four of which averaged less than that total in 2017. The highest-ranked Pioneer League school in terms of attendance was Morehead State (72nd overall).
  • The football additions for the Big South will greatly help that league in terms of fan support. Last season, four of the five schools in the conference (not counting Liberty) ranked 90th or below nationally in FCS attendance.
  • South Carolina State got a nice bump in attendance (an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest) thanks in part to games in Orangeburg against North Carolina A&T and Howard (the latter was Homecoming).

The average home attendance for SoCon teams was 7,827, a decline on average of 559 fans per game from 2016. League averages for the last four years:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827

East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,008 fans per game.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,798, though the median attendance was 6,762. Thus, the SoCon was just slightly above the national average in terms of attendance, despite ranking only 9th out of 13 FCS conferences in average attendance.

I decided to break down attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams. The average attendance for those games (a total of 36) was 7,937. The median attendance in this category was 7,783.

The most attended conference game last season was Wofford’s game at Mercer on September 9, with an announced attendance of 12,727. On October 7, Samford played at VMI, a game that drew just 3,310 spectators, the smallest crowd to watch a league contest in 2017.

Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.

The 2017 FBS average of 42,203 fans per game is the lowest since 1997.

That average attendance drop marked the second-sharpest decline since the NCAA began keeping track of college football attendance in 1948. For the first time in history, average attendance declined nationally for four consecutive seasons…

…Since establishing an all-time high average attendance in 2008 (46,971), FBS attendance has slipped a record 10.1 percent over the last nine years.

That quoted section is from a story on college football attendance written by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. Dodd also noted that the decline had even affected the ever-popular SEC. The reasons for the falloff in attendance are varied, but a former Southern Conference commissioner had some thoughts on the issue:

“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters…”The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

A former TV executive quoted in the article put most of the “blame” on the lack of attendance on students not showing up to games, but a very good article in The Athletic strongly suggested that notion was a bit faulty. I’m not going to quote a lot from that particular piece, which is behind a paywall, but as the author (Michael Weinreb) wrote:

Let’s dispel with one stereotype up front: This decrease is not taking place merely because of the inherent laziness of millennials…

…It also is not about the lack of consistent Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums. Nels Popp, an assistant professor of sport administration at the University of North Carolina, says that despite colleges’ obsession with improving Wi-Fi, connectivity is the “lowest reliable variable” when it comes to attendance. In other words: People don’t stay home because of lousy Wi-Fi, even if they consider good Wi-Fi to be a bonus when they do show up.

“Our response when we see students aren’t coming tends to be, ‘Let’s throw more #### at them,'” says Robert Malekoff, Popp’s colleague in UNC’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

In a way, that might be true, but it’s not about literally hurling T-shirts or network passwords in their general direction (it may not be about social media blasts, either, if Popp’s research on the lack of impact of social media on attendance bears out with further study). It’s a more subtle, experiential thing.

That research article by UNC professor Nels Popp on the impact of social media on attendance is quite interesting. One of its conclusions: “Twitter ‘Followers’ and Facebook ‘Likes’ had no statistically relevant impact on either attendance or ticket revenue”. Rather, historical and current on-field (and on-court) success were the decisive factors, along with “belonging to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Conference”.

The Citadel is probably not going to be joining a power-five conference anytime soon, so let’s just win a lot of games…

Circling back to the subject of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I have to mention the beer sales, or lack thereof:

The Citadel lost money selling beer at home football games in 2017, and it’s unclear whether beer sales will continue at Johnson Hagood Stadium for the 2018 season.

The school sold $21,718.24 worth of beer at five home games last season, The Citadel’s first effort to sell beer in public areas of the stadium.

But expenses to sell the beer, including $5,000 per game in rental costs to set up a beer garden, amounted to $32,858.62, leaving a net loss of $11,140.38.

The Citadel’s athletic department split the loss with corporate partner Sticky Fingers, leaving each party with a loss of $5,570.19 for the season.

Interim athletic director Rob Acunto told a committee of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors on Wednesday that the school’s beer vendor would not partner with The Citadel next season if the beer garden setup remains the same.

However, Acunto said, the beer vendor is interested in an expanded concept “because profitability would be virtually guaranteed if rental costs were eliminated.”

Without rental costs, he said, net revenue for beer sales would have been $13,859.62.

To be honest, I think $5,000 per game to set up a tent is a bit absurd, but maybe I’m missing something. Putting that aside for a moment:

  • The beer garden was located on the visitors’ side of the field, when most of the would-be customers were on the other side of the stadium
  • It was located next to a children’s play area
  • From what I understand, you couldn’t really watch the game from the tent; oddly enough, some people do like watching the game

I don’t know if selling beer is going to do much for attendance, and truthfully I’m somewhat ambivalent on the concept of selling beer at a small-college sporting event as it is. However, if you’re going to sell beer, my suggestion is to go ahead and make it part of the regular concessions package. Let the people sitting in the stands buy beer if they are of age (cadets excepted).

Also, if we’re determined to put food/beverage options on the visitors’ side (and why not?), add food carts to the mix.

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

The first game of the season is less than five months away. Are you ready?

With less than a month to go until football season begins, an odds-on look at Week 0 and Week 1

Please note: the information contained in this post is for entertainment purposes only. Use of this information in violation of any city, county, state, federal, international, interplanetary, or interdimensional laws is prohibited.

I’m basically going to do three things in this post: take a look at the sizable number of “lopsided” early-season contests; compare Massey Ratings projected game scores with early lines for various games of interest; and make a list of the best opening weekend (and pre-opening weekend) matchups.

Why am I doing this? Well, why not?

Lines are courtesy of an offshore site to be named later.

There are 136 contests in Weeks 0 and 1 that feature at least one Division I team. Among them are 44 FBS vs. FBS games; of those, 11 are games between Power-5 conference teams, 9 are Group of 5 matchups, and 24 are games in which a P5 team is playing a G5 opponent.

There are also 48 FBS vs. FCS matchups, 26 FCS vs. FCS contests, and 18 games in which FCS teams face non-D1 opposition.

Of those 136 games, 36 have an early-line spread of 30 points or more.

The breakdown of those 36 matchups:

  • FBS vs. FBS: 6
  • FBS vs. FCS: 18
  • FCS vs. FCS: 4
  • FCS vs. non-D1: 8

It’s not great that more than 26% of the D-1 games which take place prior to and through the Labor Day weekend are projected to be that one-sided. Of course, it could be argued that this is the best time for these matchups, given that the general football-loving public is starved for live gridiron action of any kind, no matter the blowout potential.

As of August 1, the largest point spread for any D-1 game in this time period is the Florida A&M-Arkansas contest on August 31, a Thursday night affair in Little Rock. The Razorbacks are favored by 51.5 points. Two games have 51-point spreads, Bethune-Cookman vs. Miami (the homestanding Hurricanes are favored, just to state the obvious) and an all-FCS matchup, Mississippi Valley State vs. North Dakota State (with the host Bison expected to prevail).

The biggest road favorite is Washington, favored by 30.5 points at Rutgers. Stanford plays Rice at a neutral site (Sydney, Australia); the Cardinal are 31.5-point favorites.

The other four FBS vs. FBS matchups with a spread of 30+ points: UTEP-Oklahoma (44 points, the largest spread in an all-FBS game), Kent State-Clemson (38.5 points), Georgia Southern-Auburn (35 points), and Akron-Penn State (33 points). To the surprise of no one, the home teams are all favored.

The other three FCS vs. FCS games with 30+ point spreads: Butler-Illinois State (36 points), Valparaiso-Montana (34 points; apologies to Adam Amin), and Delaware State-Delaware (33 points). Again, home teams are the favorites.

In the table below, I’ve included every FBS/FCS game in Week 0 (eight games played on August 26, and one on August 27), and a sampling of contests from Week 1 (August 31 through September 4). Just to reiterate, not every D-1 game from Week 1 is listed.

The first nine games in the table are from Week 0.

Favorite Underdog Line Massey Differential
Colorado State Oregon State 3.5 34-31 0.5
BYU Portland State 32.5 44-13 1.5
Florida A&M Texas Southern 1.5 26-24 -0.5
Jacksonville State Chattanooga 6.5 28-26 4.5
Cal Poly Colgate 7 35-31 3
USF San Jose State 20 41-31 10
Stanford Rice 31.5 38-7 0.5
Sam Houston State Richmond 6.5 38-34 2.5
Hawai’i Massachusetts 1 33-31 -1
Wake Forest Presbyterian 39 35-0 4
Toledo Elon 37.5 43-7 1.5
Georgia State Tennessee State 18 38-17 -3
Arkansas Florida A&M 51.5 52-3 2.5
Mercer Jacksonville 21 42-21 0
Samford Kennesaw State 7.5 38-30 -0.5
Towson Morgan State 28 35-7 0
Oklahoma State Tulsa 17 42-33 8
Ohio State Indiana 20.5 31-17 6.5
Army Fordham 15.5 40-24 -0.5
Eastern Michigan Charlotte 12.5 35-27 4.5
Navy Florida Atlantic 13.5 42-28 -0.5
Colorado Colorado State 7 35-28 0
Clemson Kent State 38.5 44-3 -2.5
Texas Maryland 16.5 34-27 9.5
Oklahoma UTEP 44 49-13 8
North Carolina California 12.5 42-32 2.5
Villanova Lehigh 6.5 28-22 0.5
Pittsburgh Youngstown State 14 40-24 -2
North Carolina State South Carolina 5.5 28-17 -5.5
Notre Dame Temple 15 28-24 11
Georgia Appalachian State 14.5 21-18 11.5
Michigan Florida 4 24-20 0
Virginia William and Mary 19.5 33-14 0.5
North Dakota State Mississippi Valley State 51 52-0 -1
Texas Tech Eastern Washington 16.5 45-38 9.5
Mississippi State Charleston Southern 18.5 38-21 1.5
The Citadel Newberry 30 37-7 0
Wofford Furman 13.5 26-14 1.5
Gardner-Webb North Carolina A&T 7 28-21 0
Baylor Liberty 30 42-14 2
East Tennessee State Limestone 28.5 35-7 0.5
Auburn Georgia Southern 35 34-13 14
Air Force VMI 31.5 41-10 0.5
Alabama Florida State 7.5 33-21 -4.5
LSU BYU 13 21-7 -1
Southern South Carolina State 2.5 27-24 -0.5
Virginia Tech West Virginia 4 29-26 1
UCLA Texas A&M 3.5 25-28 6.5
Tennessee Georgia Tech 3.5 31-32 4.5

Odds (hey, a pun!) and ends:

  • Not listed: James Madison-East Carolina, which does not have a line at present for some reason. However, Massey projects FCS defending champ JMU to win the game 38-31.
  • Western Carolina’s season opener at Hawai’i also does not have a line (at least, not one that I could find), possibly because the Rainbow Warriors play a game at Massachusetts the week before.
  • The same is true for Coastal Carolina, which opens by hosting the aforementioned Minutemen.
  • Two teams in the table that are favorites (UCLA and Tennessee) are projected to lose by the Massey Ratings.
  • Massey projects several games to be considerably closer than the current lines, notably Appalachian State-Georgia, Maryland-Texas, Eastern Washington-Texas Tech, Temple-Notre Dame, and Tulsa-Oklahoma State.
  • On the other hand, Massey likes North Carolina State and Alabama even more than the offshore folks do.

On his college basketball ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has something called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a somewhat whimsical way to rate the potential watchability of individual games on a given night.

I’m going to do the same thing here. However, I am purposely not going to rate Newberry-The Citadel, which from my vantage point is the most watchable game of the Labor Day weekend.

Below is a listing of the Week 0/1 games that I consider to be the twenty best in terms of quality/competitiveness. I’ve created a secret formula to produce these game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Alabama Florida State 9/2, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 86.73
North Carolina State South Carolina 9/2, 3:00 pm ESPN 84.20
Tennessee Georgia Tech 9/4, 8:00 pm ESPN 83.90
Virginia Tech West Virginia 9/3, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 83.55
Richmond Sam Houston State 8/27, 7:00 pm ESPNU 80.11
Tulsa Oklahoma State 8/31, 7:30 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.68
Chattanooga Jacksonville State 8/26, 6:30 pm ESPN 75.41
Colorado State Colorado 9/1, 8:00 pm Pac-12 Network 72.15
Oregon State Colorado State 8/26, 2:30 pm CBS Sports Net 72.00
James Madison East Carolina 9/2, 6:00 pm ESPN3 68.44
Temple Notre Dame 9/2, 3:30 pm NBC 67.18
Kennesaw State Samford 8/31, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.95
Texas A&M UCLA 9/3, 7:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.60
Hawai’i Massachusetts 8/26, 6:00 pm TBA 65.47
Maryland Texas 9/2, 12:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 64.19
Eastern Washington Texas Tech 9/2, 4:00 pm FS Nets/FS-Go 64.03
South Carolina St. Southern 9/3, 2:30 pm ESPN2 63.88
Navy Florida Atlantic 9/2, 8:00 pm ESPNU 63.79
Villanova Lehigh 9/2, 12:30 pm Patriot League DN 63.58
Colgate Cal Poly 8/26, 7:00 pm ESPNU 63.56

Notes:

  • Alabama-Florida State will be played in Atlanta, GA
  • Georgia Tech-Tennessee will also be played in Atlanta, GA
  • North Carolina State-South Carolina will be played in Charlotte, NC
  • Colorado State-Colorado will be played in Denver, CO
  • Chattanooga-Jacksonville State will be played in Montgomery, AL
  • Virginia Tech-West Virginia will be played in Landover, MD

The season is getting closer…and closer…

FCS school football pages and 2017 media guides

This post provides lists and links to FCS school football pages/media guides for the 2017 season (I did the same thing in 20132014, 2015, and 2016). SBNation sometimes has a page with links to FBS football pages and media guides; I’ll link to that when (or if) it becomes available.

Included below are the schools’ football web pages, 2017 football media guides, and occasionally something extra (more often than not an additional record book that is separate from the regular media guide). I also link to conference web pages and media guides.

Some of the guides are called prospectuses or supplements (or are extended “notes” packages); these tend to have fewer pages.

More than a few schools are now eschewing media guides. When that is the case, I will link to the appropriate “fact sheet” or general notes/stats packages. At times, it is hard to determine whether or not a school intends to release a media guide.

This will be a work in progress. I’ll link to media guides or prospectuses as they are released by the individual schools and conferences. For some schools, that won’t happen before the season actually begins. Based on past history, in several cases it won’t happen at all.

One note: this season, Liberty will play as an FCS independent, and not as a Big South conference member. However, for convenience I am including Liberty with the Big South teams anyway.

Last update: September 14, 2017 

Team/Conference Guide/News  Additional info
Big Sky 2017 Guide
Cal Poly 2017 Guide
Eastern Washington 2017 Guide
Idaho State 2017 News Records
Montana 2017 Guide Record Book
Montana State 2017 Guide
North Dakota 2017 Guide
Northern Arizona 2017 News
Northern Colorado 2017 News Records
Portland State 2017 Guide
Sacramento State 2017 News Records
Southern Utah 2017 News
UC Davis 2017 News
Weber State 2017 Guide
Big South 2017 Guide
Charleston Southern 2017 Guide
Gardner-Webb 2017 Guide Record Book
Kennesaw State 2017 News Record Book
Liberty 2017 News Record Book
Monmouth 2017 Guide
Presbyterian 2017 News
CAA 2017 Guide
Albany 2017 Guide Record Book
Delaware 2017 Info
Elon 2017 News Records
James Madison 2017 Guide
Maine 2017 Guide
New Hampshire 2017 Guide
Rhode Island 2017 News Record Book
Richmond 2017 News
Stony Brook 2017 Guide
Towson 2017 Guide
Villanova 2017 Guide
William & Mary 2017 News Records
Ivy League 2017 Guide
Brown 2017 Guide Records
Columbia 2017 Guide
Cornell 2017 Facts Records
Dartmouth 2017 News Records
Harvard 2017 Guide
Pennsylvania 2017 Guide
Princeton 2017 Info Record Book
Yale 2017 News Record Book
MEAC 2017 Guide
Bethune-Cookman 2017 News
Delaware State 2017 Guide
Florida A&M 2017 News
Hampton 2017 Guide
Howard 2017 News
Morgan State 2017 Guide Record Book
Norfolk State 2017 News Record Book
North Carolina A&T 2017 News
North Carolina Central 2017 Info Record Book
Savannah State 2017 Guide
South Carolina State 2017 News
MVFC 2017 News Records and Honors
Illinois State 2017 Guide
Indiana State 2017 Guide Record Book
Missouri State 2017 Guide
North Dakota State 2017 News Records and Results
Northern Iowa 2017 Guide
South Dakota 2017 Guide
South Dakota State 2017 Guide
Southern Illinois 2017 Guide
Western Illinois 2017 Guide Record Book
Youngstown State 2017 News Record Book
NEC 2017 News
Bryant 2017 News
Central Connecticut State 2017 Guide
Duquesne 2017 Guide
Robert Morris 2017 Guide
Sacred Heart 2017 News Record Book
St. Francis (PA) 2017 Guide
Wagner 2017 Guide
OVC 2017 Guide
Austin Peay 2017 News
Eastern Illinois 2017 Guide Record Book
Eastern Kentucky 2017 News Record Book
Jacksonville State 2017 Guide
Murray State 2017 Guide
Southeast Missouri State 2017 Guide
Tennessee State 2017 Guide
Tennessee Tech 2017 Guide
UT Martin 2017 Guide
Patriot League 2017 News Record Book
Bucknell 2017 Guide
Colgate 2017 Guide Record Book
Fordham 2017 Guide
Georgetown 2017 Guide
Holy Cross 2017 Guide
Lafayette 2017 Guide
Lehigh 2017 News Record Book
Pioneer League 2017 News
Butler 2017 News
Campbell 2017 Guide
Davidson 2017 News
Dayton 2017 News Record Book
Drake 2017 Guide
Jacksonville 2017 News Record Book
Marist 2017 Guide
Morehead State 2017 Guide Record Book 
San Diego 2017 News Records and Results
Stetson 2017 News History through 1956 
Valparaiso 2017 News Records and Results
SoCon 2017 Guide
Chattanooga 2017 Guide
East Tennessee State 2017 News
Furman 2017 Guide Record Book
Mercer 2017 Guide
Samford 2017 Guide
The Citadel 2017 News Record Book
Virginia Military Institute 2017 Guide
Western Carolina 2017 Guide
Wofford 2017 Guide
Southland 2017 Guide
Abilene Christian 2017 Guide
Central Arkansas 2017 Guide
Houston Baptist 2017 Guide
Incarnate Word 2017 Guide
Lamar 2017 News
McNeese State 2016 Guide
Nicholls State 2017 Guide
Northwestern State 2017 Guide
Sam Houston State 2017 Info Record Book
Southeastern Louisiana 2017 Guide
Stephen F. Austin 2017 Guide
SWAC 2017 News
Alabama A&M 2017 News
Alabama State 2017 Guide
Alcorn State 2017 News
Jackson State 2017 News
Mississippi Valley State 2017 News
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2017 News
Grambling State 2017 Guide
Prairie View A&M 2017 News
Southern University 2017 Info
Texas Southern 2017 News