SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/23/2007 12:59:00 PM
NFL vs. College: It's on!!
If you haven't yet checked out SI.com's new partner, FanNation, it's got a pretty cool feature where two users can challenge each other to a "Throwdown." SI.com NFL producer Andrew Perloff and myself are doing just that today, debating an eternal question that I'm sure readers here will find of interest: Which is better, college football or the NFL?
To me, it's an absolute no-brainer, but I figured I'd indulge Andrew nonetheless. First, we each posted our "list of reasons" why our chosen sport is superior -- here's Andrew's list, here's mine. Now, it's on to The Throwdown -- check back throughout the day as we duke it out with each other. And I certainly hope you will cast your vote for the guy who understands that football is more fun when there are fight songs, option offenses and coaches who aren't afraid to go for it on fourth and 2.
Miami has always enjoyed a spectacular home-field advantage in the Orange Bowl.
Of all the venues in which I’ve covered major college football games, one was by far the most decrepit, most unsavory, and least conducive to performing my job. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorites.
Covering Miami games at the 70-year-old Orange Bowl is an experience unlike any in the country. At no point from the time you exit the highway -- just between downtown and Miami International Airport -- and weave your way through the streets of Little Havana, wedge your car into the one remaining spot in a weed-shrouded field disguised as a parking lot, walk through the ancient steel gates surrounding the concourse, venture up the archaic, concrete elevator out front and walk into a press box somehow smaller than that of most minor-league baseball stadiums do you feel the type of warm, collegial ambiance that greets you at nearly every other major venue in the country. Nope –- the atmosphere here is purely gritty, purely urban and, on most sweaty Miami afternoons, purely uncomfortable.
And yet, everything about this stadium -- from the smoke machine that greets the players as they run through that dank and smelly tunnel to the cramped sideline where a who’s who of former greats now in the NFL hoot and holler right alongside the dance team to that unmistakable open end zone where so many ill-fated Florida State field goal tries sailed wide right of the goalpost -- is as synonymous with Miami football as the “U” helmet itself. For big games, the stadium can be so loud, so oppressive and, in many cases, seemingly mystical (I’ve covered at least four games there where the home team made improbable comebacks), that it’s not hard to see how the Hurricanes once compiled an NCAA-record 58-game home winning streak.
What is difficult, however, is envisioning Miami playing anywhere else. On Tuesday, however, the scenario is likely to become a reality. That’s when Miami’s executive board of trustees is expected to approve a long-discussed proposal to move the school’s home games to the more modern Dolphin Stadium, possibly as soon as next season. In doing so, the football program is projected to reap a minimum $1.5 million more annually -- thanks to luxury boxes, club seats and such -- than it would by remaining at the Orange Bowl.
University President Donna Shalala, who will make a formal recommendation one way or the other prior to the board’s vote, has continued to insist that staying at the Orange Bowl is still an option (“We’re still analyzing, still negotiating,” she said last week), and by all indications the city of Miami, led by a push from Mayor Manny Diaz, has made every possible effort to keep the school at the O.B. He has proposed a lavish $206 million renovation of the dilapidated stadium, including $68 million in “critical repairs.”
However, according to the Miami Herald, school administrators remain skeptical of the plan’s financing, which includes $118 million in proposed revenue bonds and “historic tax credits” that are by no means guaranteed to come through. Shalala and the board may feel they have no choice but to pack up at this point.
If the move does happen, it will not be without remorse from pretty much everyone connected to the program, most notably the fans. On the one hand, you can't fault a school for making what appears to be a no-brainer business decision. As most of Miami’s peers on the national level continue to reap the benefits of state-of-the-art facilities and exorbitant stadium expansions, the Hurricanes remain a relatively underfunded program, partially because of the Orange Bowl’s limitations and partially because of its surprisingly small core fan base (average home attendance last season: 41,908). Moving to more lucrative digs can only help new coach Randy Shannon as he attempts to resuscitate a fallen power that has gone just 14-10 in conference play since joining the ACC in 2004.
On the other hand, there’s no question the ‘Canes will lose a major part of their identity by leaving the O.B. Though the school is already accustomed to playing off campus (the Orange Bowl is about six miles from Miami’s Coral Gables campus), the ‘Canes will be literally moving to another city, Fort Lauderdale, a good half hour drive away (without traffic). While it’s not unusual for pro franchises to play in outlying areas, the only comparable major-college example is UCLA, which plays its home games several freeways away at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena -- and no one would ever accuse the Bruins of boasting a discernible home-field advantage. Furthermore, I’ve covered two national title games at Dolphin (formerly Pro Player) Stadium. Like most NFL stadiums, it’s nice, it’s clean, it’s highly functional -- and there’s absolutely nothing special about it.
By all accounts, Shannon, the former ‘Canes linebacker and defensive coordinator, is already making noticeable headway on the recruiting trail as he attempts to return Miami to greatness. While the ‘Canes have never been lacking for talent, it’s going to be more important than ever that theirs be greater than their opponents. Because one thing’s for sure: If this move does happen, Miami will no longer be able to count on the power of its home-field advantage.