The 2016 college football season could see the introduction of yet another neutral site money game pitting two teams from the power conferences in an NFL stadium. If a group of people in Nashville has it their way, the game will take place in the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, LP Field. With a game in Nashville likely to become a reality, the early buzz has swirled around the possibility of a match-up between Vanderbilt and Penn State. Call it the James Franklin Bowl, if you wish, but the reality is a match-up between the Nittany Lions and Commodores just does not look possible for the 2016 season.
The pieces appear to fall together for what could be one f the most attractive potential match-ups as we sit here in the spring of 2014. Franklin turned Vanderbilt into a formidable opponent in the SEC and has left the program to fill the vacancy at Penn State. With him he took a number of his assistant coaches an a few players who had previously been committed or leaning toward attending Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt hired Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who won over fans by going on record saying he wanted to play Penn State any time, any place. Franklin responded by suggesting Penn State would look to bringing his former program up to Happy Valley. So this game has to happen, right? Why not use it to headline the first Nashville kickoff game in 2016?
As I made a note of on College Football Talk the other day, both Penn State and Vanderbilt have full non-conference schedules lined up for the 2016 season. As currently scheduled, it would not make much sense for either team to drop one of the currently contracted games to play a neutral site game in Nashville either unless a television partner (ESPN) stepped up to the plate to make it worth the headache of rescheduling or negotiating buy-outs. Over in the comment section on Black Shoe Diaries, Dan Vecillo and I discussed this a bit. Dan referenced the hopeful $2.5 million payout the Music City Sports and Entertainment Group hopes to be able to provide. If they can provide that kind of money, then maybe it changes things. I would not count on Penn State dropping to six home games in 2016.
Penn State’s 2016 non-conference schedule includes home games against Kent State and Temple and a road trip to Pittsburgh. Already with one road trip on the schedule, it would be very unlikely Penn State would scratch one of their existing home dates with Kent State or Temple in exchange for a neutral site game. Given the importance of playing games at home in a stadium larger than LP Field, unless the guaranteed payout for the game was significant, it would not make much fiscal sense for Penn State to pack up for another game on the road. The school may get $2.5 million, but it still costs money to send the team to a neutral site game when you account for tickets to be sold, traveling costs for the football team, band and other university personnel. How much of that $2.5 million would Penn State end up eating? For reference’s sake, Michigan received a payout of $4.7 million to play in the Cowboys Classic in 2012, which is less than the Wolverines typically make during a single home game in Michigan Stadium ($5 million per home game in 2012). Penn State has seven home games scheduled in 2016, and seven has been the magic number for a long time.
Vanderbilt also has three non-conference games lined up with a home game against Middle Tennessee State and two road trips at Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Vanderbilt may be more open to the idea of moving their one home date in that schedule to Nashville against a name-opponent, but even that may be unlikely. And as I noted, moving Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee to Nashville is probably not the kind of match-up the Nashville group is looking for to get things started.
A match-up of Penn State and Vanderbilt could happen at the earliest in 2017 (unless they meet in a bowl game before then). Penn State and Vanderbilt each has one non-conference spot to fill in 2017 as now.