Opinion: Early morning football games hurt attendance

This is a football game at Ole Miss.

McKenzie Darnell
Oxford Stories

If you’ve been an Ole Miss fan for the last 50 or so years, you know the saying “We Are Ole Miss.” And you know that does not mean what you think when you read it. It is the saying we use to describe our way of finding a way to screw up any good thing we have going for us.

Thankfully, the fun town of Oxford is still the place to be following a typical loss. The Grove and the Square provide entertainment well beyond a football game, win or lose. As the saying goes, “We may lose the game, but we never lose the party.” This year, the Ole Miss football team is currently 6th in the SEC West with a record of five wins and three losses.

Following a few rough years of NCAA violations, a two-year self-imposed bowl ban, a head coach getting fired and hiring our interim head coach, Ole Miss has definitely been through the ringer, which leads anyone to believe the SEC would give us a break or the benefit of the doubt every once in a while. Well, we thought wrong.

In 2011, the last year under head coach Houston Nutt, the Ole Miss Rebels went 2-10 and only had three 11 a.m. games. I understand the team cannot pick the time of the game. The kickoff time is based on wins and losses, and television times are based on the station airing the game. This year, Ole Miss has already had four games at 11 a.m. with a winning record.

If the South-Eastern Conference and the University of Mississippi could come together on any agreement, it should be to ban 11 a.m. games. Not only does this prevent fans from coming to games, it causes a ripple effect for the entire town.

Many season ticket holders and donors to the Athletics Foundation do not live in Oxford. These important members of the university come from places like Jackson, Tupelo, Columbus, Memphis, Dallas, Birmingham, and even Atlanta. Some of these places are quite the distance, but not everyone is coming on a Friday night prior to the game.  Many college team supporters most likely support a high school team as well.

High school games are played on Friday night, so this prevents some fans from traveling to Oxford on Fridays. Until I graduated high school, we drove on Saturday mornings to Oxford every home game. This issue is not only in Oxford at Ole Miss, but all over the SEC. The 11 a.m. games are simply too early.

Decisions must be made by families if they are going to make the trek to Oxford for the early morning games. Also, it affects the Grove tradition of tailgating before the game because unless the fans plan to wake up at 8 a.m., they will miss the walk-through of the players doing the traditional Walk of Champions.

Restaurants, bars, game attendance, ticket sales and concession sales are all hurt because of early game time. Fewer people may be traveling to Oxford as the season goes on due to early morning game times. This could cause a ripple effect for our restaurants because less people are going to eat out in Oxford. Less people may be buying tickets, which brings ticket sales down. With less fans, concessions could have a hard time making huge sales.

Before the 2016 season, Ole Miss built a new student section opposite of the previous student section, which provided 2,000 more student seats. This may sound like a great idea to someone from a school like Alabama, but ever since, Ole Miss had a hard time filling the student section, especially during the morning games. This new student section sits directly in the sunlight in the north end zone.

In my four and a half years as a student, I have sat in that end zone only twice, and both were night games. The real issue here is not where the student section is located, but how to end the early morning games. I could have enjoyed my time down there much more if it wasn’t so early or in the bright light. To retain tradition and support for the University of Mississippi, the school’s administrators should fight for the removal of early morning games. As if Ole Miss has not been through enough, we are the only SEC school who has had to deal with this issue so many consecutive years.

The whole town of Oxford and the entire university could benefit from this change if they could make games later in the day. Ticket sales would increase. Concession sales would increase. More students would come to games. More fans could come to games. No one wants to get up that early for a game anyways. More fans equal more support, which means more motivation for players to be fired up to win some football games.

That is what this is all about anyways. It is all just a game, but their goal is to win. If they are not achieving their goal, they are losing. Not just on the scoreboard, but without the support of fans and students, the players do not have anything to work for.

The SEC and the university’s administrators should come together and agree that changes need to be made. It not only reflects Ole Miss, but a conference bigger than our university, so this issue falls on them as well.


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