I love the Battle for the Victory Bell. It’s a great series. The longest continually played college football rivalry game West of the Appalachian Mountains, and the oldest non-conference rivalry in the entire nation. I hope it continues to be played forever. Regional rivalries are what college sports are all about. Well, at least that’s what they’re supposed to be all about. These days, dollar signs trump everything else. Big money/Conference Realignment has ruined many of the best of these rivalries, and that is a shame. I could write an entire article on the rivalry games that have been ruined by realignment. The point is that UC needs to continue playing Miami every year. It’s one of the few things that’s still right in college football.
But that being said, it’s time to start thinking about changing the format of this “rivalry.” I say rivalry in quotations, because since UC became a member of an Automatic Qualifier conference of the now-extinct BCS, this series has not even been close to competitive. The Bearcats took the bell in 2006, and have retained it seven times in a row. The average score of those eight games is 36-9 in favor of UC. Miami’s best team in those past eight years (10-4/2010 MAC Champions) was throttled 45-3 by a miserable Bearcats team that struggled in year one under Butch Jones and limped to a 4-8 finish. You read that right. The worst Bearcats team in the past eight years beat the beat Miami team 45-to-3. Perhaps someday the Redhawks will win one and take back the bell for 364 days or so, but I seriously doubt it will happen anytime soon. Ben Roethlisberger is not walking out that door for the Hawks. UC’s win streak could realistically reach 20 or 25 in a row.
It’s time for the Bearcats to stop making the bi-annual trip up US-27 to Frat City, USA – sorry, I mean Oxford, Ohio. UC Football may not be a perennial top ten program, but it’s safe to say that this program is solidly a part of “big time” college football now, and will be for good. And big time teams don’t play non-conference home-and-homes with below average mid-majors. Especially teams they blow out 36-9 every year. That, and I’m sick of getting stuck in traffic trying to make the left turn in Millville. The normal 45-to-50-minute trip from my house to Oxford takes almost two hours when the single Northbound lane of US-27 is jammed with thousands of my fellow Bearcat fans on game day - And it’s even more annoying on the drive back home.
So let’s talk details and make this happen…
The game is obviously somewhat of a cash cow for Miami U. At least as much of a cash cow as a MAC football game can be. Since 2007, when the Redhawks host UC at Yager Stadium, attendance spikes by almost 9,000 fans over the average for other MU home games. This includes three near sellouts. I have attended all four of those games in Oxford, and can tell you that Yager was basically Nippert North on all four days – Easily a 2-to-1 ratio (or more) of fans wearing the Red-and-Black. If you throw out the 2011 game (which was played in bitter cold/wind, and still drew 16,408 - better than MU’s average), Miami draws 22,394 (a near sell-out) with the Bearcats in town. Otherwise, the Redhawks see an average crowd of around 13,500 at their 24,000-seat stadium.
So basically, the game is worth an extra 9- or 10,000 tickets sold every second year to MU. Simple solution: UC needs to make it worth Miami’s while to change the series. The schools are currently scheduled to continue playing home-and-home through the 2020 season, but if our friends at Ohio State have taught us anything, it’s that any contract can be voided if you throw enough money into a buyout.
Here are the options I see:
1. Play the game as a “neutral site” game at Paul Brown Stadium every year. Make it the season opener each year for both teams. Give it a fancy name, like the “Victory Bell Kickoff Classic at The Banks.” Give the East sideline seats to Miami’s ticket office, and the West’s to UC’s. Include the game as part of both schools’ season ticket packages. Both teams make money selling tickets to their respective fan bases. UC has either sold out or nearly sold out Nippert the last four times it has hosted the game, so it’s not unrealistic that the game could consistently draw 45,000 to 50,000 fans every year at PBS, given the large base of alumni both schools have in the area.
2. Change the series to a two-for-one format. For instance, 2015 at Miami, then 2016 and 2017 back-to-back at Nippert Stadium. UC pays Miami a travel fee for the second game at Nippert every three years to appease MU’s athletic department.
3. Keep the home-and-home rotation, but designate Paul Brown Stadium as Miami’s home field when it’s their turn to host the game. Attendance would skyrocket as compared to games played in Oxford (see option #1). Miami sells more tickets, more UC fans get to attend the game without the headache of driving to Oxford. Everybody wins (unless we’re talking about the scoreboard, which will still be as lopsided as ever).
That any of this will actually happen before the current contract between the schools expires in 2020 is unlikely, but it’s time to start planning for the future. No more home-and-homes with Miami University.