Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE With LSU football season just a month away, tickets remain for six of the Tigers' seven home games in the 2014 season.
The surplus happened because those six teams - Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Kentucky and Ole Miss all returned tickets to LSU.
Is LSU suddenly not even a hot ticket to neighboring fan bases and fan bases that do not usually even play here? This is Tiger Stadium for crying out loud! And it will be new and improved in 2014 with several thousand more seats for a capacity of 102,321.
There will also be two new giant video boards at 67 feet high and 39 feet wide that will be within view from the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge and downtown Baton Rouge. This is especially attractive since all those fans in traffic on the bridge and near downtown before games in one of the country's worst traffic cities will now be able to see the game through their windshields.
The only LSU game sold out for 2014 is Alabama on Nov. 8.
This may not be a good time for Tiger Stadium to eclipse 100,000 seats for the first time. There have been attendance decreases at LSU home games the last two years. Even after the 2011 season, in which the Tigers went 13-0 and reached the BCS national championship game, attendance dropped from 92,868 a game that year to 92,626 in 2012. The average per-game attendance dropped again last year from 92,626 to 91,418.
And those are paid attendance figures. The actual attendance at the UAB, Kent State and Furman games last year were actually much less, and by the third and fourth quarters, the attendances were a fraction of the announced figures.
Considering the cupcakes on the 2014 schedule, get ready for a lot more no-shows and no-stays against Sam Houston State, ULM, New Mexico State and Kentucky, particularly with more and more games no matter how bad - available to wider audiences courtesy of the new SEC Network set to debut on Aug. 14. LSU's debut on the network will be on Sept. 6 against Sam Houston State. Wow, haven't heard of a premier like that since Ben Hur! Sam Houston State is a powerful Football Championship Subdivision school in the Southland Conference, but it is still a lesser class.
ULM was 6-6 last season. New Mexico State was 2-10 last year. Kentucky was also 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC. Other than Alabama, which was 11-2 and 7-1 in 2013, the best teams on LSU's 2014 home schedule are Ole Miss at 8-5 and 3-5 and Mississippi State at 7-6 and 3-5.
It does not get any better in 2015 on paper. McNeese State, another FCS school, will be in on Sept. 5. Eastern Michigan, yet another 2-10 team in 2013, will visit Tiger Stadium on Oct. 3. Jacksonville State, yet another FCS school, will be in town in 2016 as will South Alabama, which only started playing football in 2009 and was 6-6 last season.
It's a good thing LSU athletic director Joe Alleva did not get his wish to do away with Florida as a permanent opponent. If so, the Tigers would only have a guaranteed premier home matchup in even numbered years against Alabama. Florida visits LSU in odd numbered years.
The Tigers open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 in a very attractive, non-conference game against Wisconsin, which was 9-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten last year. But that game is in Houston, Texas, and LSU plays Wisconsin in the state of Wisconsin in Green Bay in 2016. Now that game will be in Lambeau Field, and that will be an awesome trip for LSU fans. The trip to Houston, a hotbed for LSU recruiting and home to a large LSU alumni base (particularly in the oil industry), will be a great weekend, too.
LSU also makes a lot of money from such a neutral site affair as it did with its games against TCU in Dallas last season, against Oregon in Dallas in 2011 and against North Carolina in Atlanta in 2010. Dallas and Atlanta are also prime recruiting posts for LSU.
But at the end of those trips, they are still away games. And LSU is such a power in recruiting and such a TV brand name, it doesn't need to play a game in an area it recruits. Big time schools playing in an area they recruit to enhance recruiting is an anachronism.
The Tigers should be playing Wisconsin at home in September and returning the game to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2016. Or at least play them in Superdome instead of Houston this year.
LSU needs to forget about building its name. It is built and then some. With this SEC Network set to televise everything but intramurals, LSU does not need neutral site games subtracting a Tiger Stadium game. Bowls are neutral site games. That's enough.
So with a ridiculously low eight-game SEC schedule in a 14-team league, if LSU does not replace the Furmans and the Sam Houston States and the South Alabamas with some better non-conference home opponents, Tiger Stadium is going to continue to be just another no-show, no-stay stadium except for once or twice a season.
LSU's tradition has been made richer by memorable non-conference games in Tiger Stadium such as Virginia Tech in 2007, Oregon State in 2004, Ohio State in 1987, Notre Dame in 1986 and 1971 and USC in 1979 not by summer games in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta and not by Tiger Stadium fans yelling 'Tiger Bait' to Jacksonville State and Eastern Michigan. Syracuse is coming in 2017, and LSU plays there in 2015. But why? Syracuse is another anachronism. It has one double-digit win season in the last two decades.
As it is, there is not a good non-conference opponent due in Tiger Stadium until Arizona State visits on September 9, 2023.
So other than games against an Alabama, a Florida, an Auburn and a few others over the next decade, the new Tiger Stadium could have more elbow and leg room than ever before.