On years where there is a chance that a Big Ten team will be in it, I often buy my tickets several weeks before the end of the season, forking over the higher ticket money for some pretty good seats. This season you'll see me sitting on the 40 yard line. And hopefully, I'll be cheering on Michigan State.
Why would I want MSU to go to this game this year? First and foremost, my personal selfish reasons: It would save me a lot of money, and I already have great seats! It's hard to argue with that, right? If I have tickets either way, I would be pretty weird to be rooting for Middle Tennessee Atlantic Gulf Academy against Central Michigan. But my rational makes sense for a lot of people: It's close and it would save money.
First, lets look at the general fan perspective. There is no possible bowl location this year where more MSU fans could cheer on their team. Look at the Final Four as an example. Detroit turned green that weekend, and there were three other teams supposedly playing too. Sure, the importance of the Motor City Bowl isn't on par with the Final Four, but if MSU can sell fans 74,000 tickets to see them play Montana State in East Lansing, they should be able to sell 50,000 tickets to play someone better in Detroit. Where travel, hotel, tickets, food, other attractions and souvenirs for either the Alamo Bowl or the Insight Bowl would place a trip out of price range for many Michigan families, a day trip to Detroit with dinner at the Coney Island after the game is not much more than going to the movies on a Friday night.
Plus, if you are a hard core State of Michigan sports fan, you could decide to catch MSU in the noon game, and then either the home Pistons or home Red Wings game that night. You'll probably not even see those on TV if you traveled down to Texas or Arizona. The City of Detroit could use the extra tax dollars, and if we want a Motor City Bowl to be around much longer, at some point it would be nice if it actually sold out, or even came close. And the only way that is likely to happen is with Michigan State, Michigan, or perhaps Notre Dame in attendance. Weren't all of those feel good stories on TV about how great it was for Detroit that MSU was in the Final Four nice? You could get your DVR ready for a whole bunch more of those!
Now, lets look at a school perspective. Even before this week's embarrassing "excuse me for a minute Mom while I run across the street and kick the crap out of some short guy" episode, Detroit was not a bad option. Financially speaking, MSU spends a lot of money to play in a bowl. Sure, I'll buy your argument that MSU makes a lot more money, and the bowls pay a lot of expenses. Plus money goes to the Big Ten and is then split between the teams to help everyone. But even with a smaller overall payout to MSU coming from the Detroit game than another possible game, MSU could choose to dramatically save money on their expenses. Just look at all of the people we travel: Football team and staff, athletic department staff, administrators and Board of Trustees, University Relations, SAF (Sparty), Spartan Marching Band, cheerleaders, Spartan Radio, high level donors, Alumni Association staff. We could treat a trip to Detroit like any other bowl game, where many of them get sent days early and put up in hotels, many receiving per diem for every meal. But if MSU plays in Detroit, we wouldn't HAVE to. Many of these people wouldn't need a hotel at all, and if they did it may only be for one night, not three or more. You can forget the cost of the chartered airline plus the additional airfare for all of the people who are not on the chartered flight, plus the cost of the semi trucks of equipment driving across the country (Yeah, we truck the helmets and pads and tubas).
There is a fair argument for the element of prestige. Playing in Detroit is simply not as cool as playing in Texas or Arizona. It may not look as appealing to recruits, to fans hoping for that trip to warm weather, or to the high school student whose looking for a school to apply for college (and is not as interested in how great the Math department is). But I'll make this argument for prestige: It is more prestigious to sell out your ticket allotment and then another 30,000 tickets than to leave half your section empty. It is more prestigious to compete and win a game than to get blown out by 50 against Oklahoma or Texas Tech. It is more prestigious to have your team take the field to thunderous cheers than the boos from the sea of Orange or Red that would far out-number those wearing green. And it is more prestigious to look at this team's goals from the beginning of the season, and be able to say "accomplished." A big goal this season was to WIN a bowl game, not just go. No matter where MSU goes, they will have gone to three straight bowl games, something that has not been done in a long time. That's pretty prestigious too.
So even though I have been hoping for their destination to be Detroit for a while, my mind was firmly made up this week after "the incident." The effect on fan enthusiasm for traveling to a bowl could simply be devastating. If this had happened a few weeks earlier, or a week later, it may not have mattered as much. But the site is announced Sunday, and it came out this week. The timing simply could not be worse for trying to excite fans and trying to sell tickets.
The scenario I fear is that MSU will draw the Alamo Bowl and have to play Oklahoma. For the third straight year, MSU would play the top QB prospect going into the NFL Draft. Winning that game would be difficult at best, and with 6+ starters possibly out for the bowl, it would take darn near a miracle. Knowing this, a large number of fans that may have attended the game now stay home, and our reputation as a school that travels well is hurt badly. That hurts our future bowl selections. And losing the game badly doesn't impress recruits or anyone else. So we would spend a lot more money to go and hurt our recruiting, our future bowl selection chances, and our pride.
Now picture what I've been picturing for the last month: 65,000 screaming fans in green, a bowl victory, family and friends all around, tailgating with hot chocolate and snow football, and an athletic department that can save enough money on the trip to avoid having to make cuts to Volleyball and Wrestling. Recruits with smiles on their faces, and TV stories about how this MSU team has adopted the City of Detroit, lifting it from the ashes one more time, instead of TV stories about our how we didn't travel half our team cause they are thugs.
Either way, I'll be at the Motor City Bowl on December 26th. I just hope MSU is too.