For a price, Hoosiers call Maryland home

Posted: November 18, 2010

Home may be where the heart is, but for the Indiana University football team it's also where the money is.

Indiana will abandon its Bloomington, Ind., stadium on Saturday to play a home game against Penn State in Landover, Md., a locale roughly 350 miles closer to the Nittany Lions' campus than its own.

Why?

Well, there are roughly three million reasons. That's how many dollars Indiana was guaranteed to switch the Big Ten matchup to FedEx Field.

That's a pretty significant sum for the Hoosiers' program, which generates the second-lowest football revenue in the Big Ten and historically has had trouble filling 52,000-seat Memorial Stadium.

And, according to the contract worked out last year between Indiana and the Washington Redskins, the proprietor of FedEx Field, the only stipulation was that the Hoosiers sell 7,000 tickets.

Given the stadium's proximity to Penn State, Indiana's traditionally soft support, and the Hoosiers' 83-20 thrashing by Wisconsin a week ago, those 7,000 ticket holders may make up the entire Indiana contingent Saturday.

Redskins ticker manager Jeff Ritter said Wednesday that a crowd of more than 75,000 was expected for the noon Saturday game, with the overwhelming majority expected to be Penn State supporters.

That's fine with Indiana officials, for whom the game's real attraction is funds, not fans.

"We'd be naive to think that this is going to be predominantly an IU crowd," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said when the move was revealed a year ago.

According to figures submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2009-2010 school year, Indiana's football-related revenue was $22 million. Penn State, by comparison, listed a total of $70 million. Ohio State and Michigan had $63 million each.

Glass compared his school to a PT boat trying to compete in a conference with "giant aircraft carriers like Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan."

The deal came about when the Redskins went looking for ways to keep their 91,704-seat stadium in use. Other NFL teams are beginning to do the same.

The Dallas Cowboys, for example, agreed to pay Oklahoma $2.5 million to move its home game with Brigham Young to the team's new stadium in Arlington, Texas, last year. Overall, NFL stadiums will host 16 college games this season - exclusive of those involving teams such as Temple, which make their homes in such facilities.

The Redskins lured Virginia Tech to FedEx Field for a game against Boise State earlier this season. Tech, guaranteed $2.35 million, drew a crowd of 86,587.

While Indiana almost certainly couldn't come close to filling FedEx Field, Penn State, which has an estimated 40,000 alumni in the D.C. area and whose campus is about 200 miles away, certainly can come close.

But with Penn State unwilling to surrender one of its extremely lucrative home dates, Redskins officials went hunting for one of their opponents who wouldn't mind.

Indiana, which last year, for the first time in 17 seasons, averaged more than 40,000 fans at its home football games, made sense. And with revenue from one of their typical home games estimated at $1 million, the Hoosiers jumped at the opportunity.

Indiana officials also noted that the atmosphere at a locale near the nation's capital would provide the taste of a bowl game for its 4-6 team, which needs to beat both Penn State and Purdue to become eligible for one.

Coach Bill Lynch, who agreed to the move, has been criticized at home by some who believe the Hoosiers would have been in a better position to defeat Penn State on their home field.

Lynch is under fire anyway. His Hoosiers followed a heartbreaking last-second loss to highly ranked Iowa - in which a wide-open receiver dropped what would have been the winning touchdown pass with 28 seconds left - with last Saturday's historic 63-point thumping by Wisconsin.

For its part, Penn State figures to reap benefits from the locale switch. It has always recruited heavily in the Maryland/Washington area, and this appearance can only enhance its visibility there.

The Lions have 12 players from Maryland on their 2010 roster, the most well-represented state outside Pennsylvania.

Asked what he thought about Indiana's playing a home game so far from home, Penn State coach Joe Paterno hesitated.

"I don't like to comment on what the other fellow does," he said Tuesday. "I think that they have a reason for doing it. I don't know exactly. I have not discussed it with them. I was told that they were going to move the game to Washington, D.C., and I said to myself, 'Hey, I wonder why they're doing it?' But I haven't bothered to ask them. There's nothing I can do about it. . . . If they want to play in Indiana, it's their prerogative. And if they want to play in Washington, that's their prerogative."

Paterno also said that unlike many of Penn State's fans, who figure to drive to the game, his team will fly the relatively short distance.

"We go to class on Friday . . . and it's a 12 o'clock game. You know, when we used to bus, everything was 1 or 2 o'clock. Now with television telling you when you're going to play . . . If it had been a 3 o'clock game or a night game, we probably would have considered busing."

Indiana, too, will fly, the first time that's happened for one of its home games.

"To survive and excel in this conference," Glass said in 2009, "I think we've got to do things maybe a little bit differently, and maybe we're in a position where we can take some risks."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick

at 215-854-5068 or at ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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