In its second year under Mike Leach, long-scuffling Washington State last week announced its Oct. 12 game against Oregon State is already sold out. If that’s not buying what the new coach is selling, what is?
By comparison, Arizona’s announced crowd of 41,661 against UTSA was the smallest at Arizona Stadium dating to 1998, with the exception of the John Mackovic years and a post-Mike Stoops-firing game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
In retrospect, the Wildcats were battling four considerable negatives against UTSA. It was hot (91 degrees at kickoff). It was a late kickoff, 7:34 p.m., televised live. The opponent wasn’t sexy. And it abutted the Mayweather-Canelo fight.
As much as those four variables, I think the low turnout was because expectations are on hold until 2014 or later.
Even Rich Rodriguez echoed such immediately after beating UTSA. In a locker room video, he told his players “nobody’s predicting us to do anything.”
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said the perceived lack of interest won’t change his scheduling approach.
“We have to play NAU every other year, as does ASU,” he said, reflecting a mandate from the Arizona Board of Regents. “And because we play nine conference games, I’m not interested in playing two BCS schools in a season.”
The UA’s nonconference home opponents through 2017 are UTEP, Grambling, Nevada, UNLV, UTSA and Houston. Byrne, who inherited part of future nonconference home schedules, said he is in the process of adding more appeal.
One problem: Because the Big 12 plays a nine-game conference schedule, and because the Big Ten and SEC are considering a nine-game format, maneuverability has been diminished. Stanford, for example, flew cross-country last week to play Army. A charter flight for a trip like that can cost as much as $200,000.
“I also wanted to give RichRod a couple of years to get his feet under him,” said Byrne. “When we do add to our home schedule, it will have to make sense for us.”
There is also an unspoken barrier: Those who are betting Rodriguez will build a power in Tucson by 2015 or thereabouts, might be unwilling to enter into a home-and-home arrangement.
Unbowed, Byrne said “I like the size of our stadium; I think 56,000 is just right.”
It might just be a matter of time. By Stoops’ third year, Arizona drew no fewer than 55,000 against BYU, USC, Oregon State, ASU, Cal and Washington. Typically, as the brand grows in Tucson, so does the number of those who will pay to watch the Wildcats play football.