Earlier this week, Colorado agreed to a game next season at Ohio State in a one-game deal. Instead of making a return trip to Boulder, the Buckeyes will pay the cash-strapped Colorado athletic department $1.4 million. That deal made me stop and think for a while. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn told the Ralphie Report that Nebraska is the hardest thing in the Big XII to leave behind and that he's been in contact with Tom Osborne, saying "we're going to schedule that game again every few years".
So let's look at Nebraska's non conference schedule over the next few years, as frankly I don't see room for this series to continue on a home-and-home basis:
2012: Southern Miss, @ UCLA, TBA, TBA
2013: Wyoming, @ Southern Miss, UCLA, TBA
2014: @ Fresno State, Miami, TBA, TBA
2015: @ Miami, Southern Miss, TBA, TBA
2016: Fresno State, Tennessee, Wyoming
2017: @ Tennessee, TBA, TBA
With an 85,000 seat stadium and a sellout streak dating back nearly 50 years, I don't see Nebraska playing fewer than seven home games any season. The economics of Nebraska athletics demand the revenue that Nebraska plays at home as much as possible. With the Big Ten intending to go to nine conference games each season around 2016, Nebraska will likely only be able to go on the road every other year for a non-conference game since every other year, there will only be four home conference games. So looking at Nebraska's non-conference schedule, I don't see an opening for a game in Boulder until 2018 at the soonest.
Very few people like the non-conference schedules that Steve Pederson put together, especially last years and this years. Three Sun Belt foes? Idaho, Western Kentucky, and South Dakota State? These aren't just money games, these are body bag games that don't tell us anything about the team. (Remember how well Zac Lee looked in those games?) But what's Nebraska to do when it comes time to find teams to play in Lincoln without a return visit?
Simple...pay them off. And anymore, that's a hefty payday: Western Kentucky and Idaho are receiving approximately $800,000 to play in Lincoln this season. And even at that rate, it makes financial sense for Nebraska to schedule these games. 75,000 non-student tickets sold at $54 brings in approximately $4 million in ticket revenue; that's more than enough to make it a good deal to pay the going rate for home games.
But let's look at Colorado. A stadium that only seats 53,000 and a team that only averages 45,000 fans a game. The stadium fills up for name opponents, but not for uncompetitive games. Hence, Colorado usually plays a pretty strong schedule year after year. This year, they play Colorado State, Cal, Hawai'i, and Georgia. Sometimes, even that's not enough to sell tickets, leading CU to offer discounts (as much as 4 tickets for $40 to a game last year) to try and put fans in the stands. When you are discounting tickets like that in a smaller stadium, suddenly paying $800k simply doesn't make financial sense. If you sell 45,000 tickets at an average price of $45, you only gross $2 million...and net only about $1 million after you pay the opponent. Even less if you need to discount further.
So let's see what we've established here:
Nebraska isn't likely to be able to play a road non-conference game until 2018, but does have openings for home games..
Colorado is financially strapped and can't depend on home game revenue to turn a profit, but is willing to play on the road for the right price.
And then there's this little tidbit that our old pal Woody Paige dropped this week:
The Buffs likely will play Nebraska in Lincoln in future seasons.
That's right: there will be more Nebraska-Colorado games in the future...but most, and quite possibly maybe all, will be played in Lincoln. If you use the Ohio State game as a precedent, Colorado can make more money playing a road game at a major opponent than bringing a no-name opponent to Boulder.
In my mind, there are only two hangups to making this happen: (1) is Nebraska willing to pay over $1 million to Colorado to come to Lincoln and (2) does Nebraska want another BCS foe on it's non-conference schedule?
In my mind, the money is the most likely concern, but when you consider the impact of the game on television, it might be worth it. Nebraska likely could justify an increase in ticket prices in 2012, for example. Would you rather pay $65 for a Nebraska vs. Colorado game, or $54 for Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic, for example?
As for the schedule strength, schools are starting to shy away from "play nobody" methodology. Last year, Texas signed deals to play Minnesota and Cal, and just signed a four game deal with Notre Dame. Granted, Nebraska's future schedules are improved, but it's still not loaded with top 25 teams.
From my perspective, it looks like a good deal. Nebraska gets home game revenue they need. Colorado gets money they desperately need. Fans get better matchups. Television networks get more inventory, making contracts more lucrative.
And best of all, Husker fans don't have to worry about the urine bombs being launched from the student section.