The grumbles started coming from Syracuse fans as soon as the school announced it would play No. 2 USC at MetLife Stadium just outside New York City, and call it a home game.
While that move may not sit well with the locals who would have loved the opportunity to watch their team take on one of the best programs in the nation in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse decided to move the game for several practical reasons.
1. More national exposure.
2. The hopes it helps recruiting in the area, a major priority for Orange coach Doug Marrone.
3. Getting all the players from the New York City-New Jersey area a chance to play closer to home.
4. Their largest alumni base is in the area, so it gives them an opportunity to see their team much closer to home.
The money that goes with playing in a game like this does not hurt, either.
"Our football team and our players and myself try to look at things in a positive perspective. We’re excited," coach Doug Marrone said. "A large part of our team has a lot parents, a lot of family, a lot of friends and a lot of times they can’t make it up to Syracuse, so it’s a great opportunity for them to see that. From a recruiting standpoint, we're focused in on that area. A lot of people are available to come to the game and as far as some of our fans, we understand some of the challenges they have. We hope they can look forward to a good weekend, maybe spending extra time down there. ... Everything that’s going on in the outside is very positive."
Still, it is hard to gauge how much fan interest there is in the area for this game, dubbed New York's College Classic -- particularly since USC is so heavily favored to win. Tickets are still available, and the upper bowl will be closed. It is not known yet just how many folks will end up filling the 82,500-seat stadium -- which is way more than the Carrier Dome capacity of 49,500. One early estimate has the projected crowd at around 40,000.
The intention, of course, was not to alienate its fan base or play in front of a half-empty stadium, but to look for a creative opportunity to try and enhance Syracuse football. In an interview earlier this spring, athletic director Darryl Gross explained why he decided to move the game.
"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’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."
Syracuse has several other contracted games to play in MetLife Stadium over the next few years, so this is not a one-time deal. We will have to wait and see if the Orange do end up reaping the benefits of playing a home game away from home.