One of the most persistent questions I get from Syracuse fans in my mailbag is whether I agree with the scheduling philosophy that has the Orange playing one of their marquee home games in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
This year, Syracuse hosts USC on Sept. 8 in East Rutherford, in a game set for a national television audience. Syracuse has three more games contracted to be played in the stadium through 2016, with contests set against Notre Dame and Penn State. (Note: The Penn State game will be considered neutral site because there is a home-and-home with the Nittany Lions, with a game set for the Carrier Dome in 2021).
I have said that I have no problems with Syracuse playing away from the Carrier Dome once a year. Talk about a chance to make some pretty big national headlines. But I understand the fan concern, so I had a chance to ask Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross about his philosophy in scheduling these games closer to New York City than home base. This is what he said when we spoke at the ACC spring meetings.
"For us, we have to create a culture that is a little bit different from what we’ve been doing because we haven’t had the success on the national level in football that we’ve wanted to have," Gross said. "Sometimes you have to try different things. We have a football coach in Doug Marrone who knows the importance of recruiting Northern Jersey and the New York City area and so to be in MetLife Stadium, in a pro stadium, in front of some parents, in front of recruits, knowing they’re going to have an opportunity to play there on the big stage is incredible. And it’s incredibly important to his program and what he wants to do and it’s very consistent with what he’s wanted to do. This isn’t just a concept just to throw out, or any type of gimmick. This is important for his football program.
"We’ve had tremendous success in New York City with the men’s basketball program and over the years playing in Madison Square Garden has branded the program well. That’s not just the Big East tournament, but it’s playing nonconference games down at Madison Square Garden yearly and so people have gotten used to that so they feel that’s just part of the natural thread that’s been a part of Syracuse basketball. Those are games we could play in the Dome, but New York has been important to us. It’s really helped us brand Syracuse basketball over the years, and so we feel the same thing is going to happen with this opportunity."
Gross points out that Syracuse is the only school from an automatic qualifying conferences in the state of New York, and that a huge alumni base also lives in the New York City area -- two benefits to playing in MetLife Stadium.
"We want to give all New Yorkers a team they can be proud of," Gross said. "So we’re going to play in MetLife Stadium, which is going to help our recruiting, help our brand and help all of the above and get the student-athlete experience. The student-athletes are so excited about this. They get to play where the Giants and Jets play. Are you kidding? And recruits see that as well. It’s a really big deal for us, and its’ something we should embrace, because I know that’s what Doug Marrone needs for his program.
Because that game is in New Jersey and the Orange lost what would have been a home game against TCU, Syracuse is left with five games in the Carrier Dome for the 2012 season. Two of those are on Friday night (Pitt, UConn).
Last year, three of the Orange's seven home games in the Carrier Dome were played either Thursday or Friday, also drawing some discontent from loyal Syracuse fans.
"I know people don’t like change, but we did it last year and it couldn’t have been embraced more than it was and it beats playing at noon on Saturday," Gross said. "People are late arriving, kids are playing soccer. We never get that crowd. In lieu of the Friday game, we’d be playing Saturday. I had more complaints playing at noon. Part of playing on Friday helped the ACC get the television package over the goal line so us and Boston College will be playing some Friday night games. It’s a nice novelty game, it gives people a chance that aren’t going to be at that Saturday noon game, and people who want a little bit of atmosphere on and be the only game on. That’s great."