After navigating the longest of slogs, the most turbulent of times, Stanford and Cal are just weeks away from the start of a season that once seemed unlikely.
The ancient rivals have one more step to take.
It doesn’t require a vote of the Pac-12 CEO.
It doesn’t require approval from state or local health authorities.
It can be done quickly and efficiently but must be done together.
They need to change the location of Big Game.
This year’s edition is scheduled for Berkeley on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.
The schools should move it to Stanford.
They should take advantage of the pandemic to end the tradition of playing Big Game in Memorial Stadium in even years and in Stanford Stadium in odd years.
That rotation doesn’t work for either team, their fans or their budgets.
It creates an imbalance in the home schedules when combined with the current division lineups, the cross-division rotation with the Los Angeles schools and Stanford’s annual date with Notre Dame.
Excluding the Arizona and Mountain teams, which play the Bay Area teams on a different cycle and don’t fuel ticket sales, here’s the longstanding rotation for the Bay Area teams:
Cal home games in even years: Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Stanford
Cal home games in odd years: Oregon State, Washington State, USC
Stanford home games in even years: Washington State, Oregon State and USC
Stanford home games in odd years: Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Cal and Notre Dame
That doesn’t work for either program, especially Stanford (because of the Notre Dame series).
But if you flip the location of Big Game, balance ensues:
Cal’s odd-year home lineup improves, as does Stanford’s even-year schedule.
Add the lure of Big Game to each team’s weaker year, and it becomes easier to sell season tickets and multi-game ticket packages.
It also lends balance to the budgets, as we’ll show in a moment.
The idea of shifting the Big Game location rotation has been floated over the years but never gained traction.
One problem, always, was how to break the cycle.
We can think of only two ways
1) Make use of a neutral site, like Levi’s Stadium, as the pivot point.
In other words, play the even-year game in Berkeley as usual, move the odd-year game to Levi’s — the teams would split the ticket revenue, of course — then play the even-year game at Stanford.
Presto: Cycle broken.
2) Play back-to-back games at the same site.
Even year in Berkeley, odd year in Berkeley, then even at Stanford, for example.
But the pandemic provides an option that eliminates the need to involve Levi’s Stadium and makes a second consecutive game at Stanford more palatable for Cal, which oh-by-the-way won at Stanford last year to break a nine-game losing streak.
Without fans, home-field advantage is limited.
And without fans, home-game cash is non-existent.
Moving the location wouldn’t cause the Bears to lose out on the revenue from a near-capacity crowd.
In that regard, we should point out, Cal is among the hardest hit programs in the conference. It cannot collect ticket and concession revenue in a fiscal year that features its more attractive home schedule.
(The other teams with rivalry games at home this year — and no ticket sales — are Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State).
The difference in annual football revenue for Cal is significant.
In the latest two budget cycles that included the even-year home schedule — the 2017 and 2019 fiscal years — the Bears generated approximately $19 million (combined) in ticket sales, concessions and parking.
In the two budget cycles that included the odd-year home schedule (FY16 and FY18), they generated about $14 million.
(The FY20 financial data isn’t available on Cal’s website.)
This is the time to make a move both schools need to make.
Among the lessons of the past few months is this: Football schedules can be altered and manipulated with ease.
The switch from Berkeley to Stanford would require four ‘Yes’ votes — from coaches Justin Wilcox and David Shaw and athletic directors Jim Knowlton and Bernard Muir.
They could run run it past Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Cal chancellor Carol Christ just to, you know, make them feel important.
But why would the bosses care? It’s better for both teams, both budgets and both fans bases.
The competitive ramifications are limited.
The conference has no say in the matter.
There will never be a less painful opportunity for the ancient rivals to make a dramatic short-term change that would benefit both programs over the long haul.
They have six weeks to get it done.
It should take six hours.
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Dan Carter was a reporter for nomad Labs, before becoming the lead editor. Dan has over forty bylines and has reported on countless stories concerning all things related to tech and science. Dan studied at CSUF.