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October 20, 2014

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Larger stadiums, better teams?

Ron Kantowski speculates on the relationship between college football teams and the size of their stadiums

Every year at this time two things generally happen: It gets cloudy outside and the media that cover the UNLV football team — except for the TV guys, who are always positive — come up with theories about why the Rebels are so awful and remedies to turn around the program.

Usually, these include a blueprint for success from the state of Kansas. If Kansas and Kansas State, which used to be every bit as awful as the Rebels, can win in football, why can’t UNLV?

Good question.

One answer is they spend more money on it.

Another is they play in a bigger conference.

A third is they run better plays.

But maybe it’s simpler than all that. Maybe it’s just a matter of the size of your stadium.

Kansas plays in Memorial Stadium, which seats 50,071. Kansas State plays in Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium (which, I hear, is even more kid friendly than Chuck E. Cheese’s), which seats an even 50,000.

UNLV plays in Sam Boyd Stadium, which seats an odd 36,800. (I’m not referring to “odd” as in the number. I’m talking “odd” as in the fans who sit in the end zone seats and chuck beers onto the field.)

I know it’s a chicken-and-egg thing, but if you don’t have a stadium that seats 50,000, chances are pretty good that football on your campus is only a diversion until basketball practice begins.

In college football, size matters. And not just on the offensive line.

According to stadium capacity figures compiled by Rivals.com, there are 39 Division I-A stadiums with smaller capacities than UNLV. Most belong to those directional schools from Michigan — Central, Eastern, Western — that play in the Mid-American Conference. None is very good.

Only three are members of a Bowl Championship Series conference. Washington State and Duke aren’t very good, either. Wake Forest was good the past two years. Before that, it was awful, too.

Maybe it’s only a coincidence the good programs play in giant stadiums that only they and the Rolling Stones could fill. But if you can’t pour concrete, chances are the best you can hope for is 7-5 and a bid to a bowl game named for a muffler or a chicken sandwich.

So does UNLV coach Mike Sanford deserve some slack because he’s 6-29 in three years on the job? Well, maybe a little, because six of those 29 losses were to opponents who play in stadiums that hold at least 50,000 spectators. Maybe Sanford deserves a little more, because the Rebels were bad for a long, long time before he got here.

There are 10 schools that play in stadiums that seat at least 90,000: Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, USC and UCLA. I don’t count UCLA, because (a) it only rents the Rose Bowl and (b) it lost to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl.

But those other nine will knock the snot out of you, or whatever they say in Texas and within a 25-mile radius of any campus where they used to run the Wishbone.

Beaver Stadium, Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Neyland Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Texas, Sanford (Dr. Steadman Vincent, not Mike) Stadium, Tiger Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Bowl ... the names of the stadiums are as familiar as the teams that call them home.

At the other end are Dix Stadium, Yager Stadium, Doyt Perry Stadium, Huskie Stadium (the one with an “ie,” not a “y”), Paden Stadium, Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, Scheumann Stadium, Lockhart Stadium, FIU Stadium and the Kibbie Dome ... these stadiums couldn’t wake up the echoes with an alarm clock and a sack full of M-80 firecrackers.

These are the football homes of Kent State, Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Western Kentucky, Ball State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Idaho. Those schools won 49 games and lost 75 last year, which doesn’t seem all that bad, until you consider they played mostly among themselves in the Seldom Receive Votes conferences.

UNLV fans may remember — but probably forgot — that UNLV played Idaho, the team with the smallest stadium (cap. 16,000) in the NCAA, on Sept. 10, 2005 — Sanford’s second game on the job. The Rebels steamrolled the Vandals, 34-31.

OK, so 34-31 isn’t exactly steamrolled. But in 1994, when UNLV posted one of only three winning seasons it has enjoyed over the past 21, it lost to Idaho, 41-38.

So I propose the Rebels play Idaho more often. And that the NCAA should split into two leagues, one for schools that play in stadiums holding at least 50,000 spectators, and one for schools that play in stadiums — or Kibbie Domes — that seat fewer than 50,000.

If you drew a line between them, 61 would play in the Gargantuan Stadium League and 59 would play in the Fenway Park Conference.

Sorry, UAB. You play your home games in Legion Field (cap. 72,000), you gotta beat the big boys.

All us small fries have to do is beat Syracuse (Carrier Dome, cap. 49,262), Indiana (Memorial Stadium, cap. 49,225) and Northwestern (Ryan Field, 47,130 cap.) on ESPN2.

Meineke Car Care Bowl, here we come.

Read Ron Kantowski’s blog, “Now and Then,” at www.lasvegassun.com/blogs/now-and-then.

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