As we await tonight's BCS national championship game, perhaps one of the more interesting stories in college athletics is how Oregon has snuck its way into this game, given the disparity in one overlooked, yet important, statistic--the size of the school's football stadium.
Let's back up a bit to provide some context. There are 18 schools with on-campus stadiums of 80,000 capacity or more--here's that list:
100,000+ -- Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Alabama
90,000+ -- Texas, Georgia, LSU, Florida
82,000+ -- Florida State, Auburn, Texas A&M, Oklahoma
80,000+ -- Nebraska, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Clemson, South Carolina
What do these schools have in common? All but three have won a national championship since 1980 and Auburn, one of tonight's combatants, won a national championship in the 1950's.
Oregon, on the other hand, plays in a stadium with a listed capacity of 54,000 and a normal attendance of around 59,000--hardly competitive with the big boys. So, perhaps it should be no surprise that this is the Ducks' first true sniff at the national crown.
Stadium size is about much more than ego--it's about revenue to the athletic department. And, the biggest stadiums reside where there has been a tradition of consistent success. Championships breed fan interest which equals revenue.
Here are the average attendance figures, by conference:
SEC = 75,706
Big 10 = 69,643
Big 12 = 58,968
Pac 10 = 56,314
ACC = 52,936
Big East = 39,043
If you're curious as to which schools would rank near the bottom in attendance, the Mid-America Conference has plenty of candidates, with eight teams sporting some of the lowest attendance-as-percentage-of-stadium-capacity stats in the country.
According to The Bleacher Report, this list of schools has the worst attendance as percentage of capacity:
1. Eastern Michigan
2. Florida International
3. Ball State
4. Miami (Ohio)
8. Bowling Green
9. Western Kentucky
10. Northern Illinois
11. Florida Atlantic
12. San Jose State
13. Kent State
15. Utah State
17. New Mexico State
An Oregon win tonight, even as a member of a BCS conference, would go a long way to showing that even non-traditional powers in college football can sometimes sneak in and take the crown.