Jacksonville State seemed like a slam dunk to play in this season’s FCS Kickoff at the historic Cramton Bowl. It is their final year in the FCS and they are only 2 hours away from Montgomery. In the past, their appearances in the FCS Kickoff drew 12,952 and 13,500 in 2017 and 2018.
This year was drastically different, as their 42-17 win over Stephen F. Austin drew an underwhelming 5,235 fans, just over a quarter of the 20,000-seat Cramton Bowl. Arguably, this deserves as much conversation as the game itself.
The FCS Kickoff took a chance and had Stephen F. Austin make the visit to Montgomery. The Lumberjacks had a solid 2021 campaign but are 556 miles away from Jacksonville. The FCS Kickoff may have been better off using a more geographically reasonable week 1 matchup like Samford or Kennesaw State as both schools are about 2 hours away from Montgomery.
The Lumberjacks also are not as much of a name-brand in the FCS world, so local fans may not be as eager to see them as they would a school from the Missouri Valley or CAA.
Another reason for the drop in attendance is Jacksonville fans may simply be weary of going to the Cramton Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Cramton Bowl but making the 2-hour trip to see your favorite team win early-season non-conference games can get old.
This season’s trip to Montgomery was the Gamecocks’ fourth in six years. Even casual college football fans remember the awkward Wednesday night trip to Montgomery the Gamecocks had against UAB to open last season. Surprisingly, that game drew almost 4,000 more fans than Saturday’s FCS Kickoff.
Maybe it is good that Jacksonville State moves to Conference USA next season as the FCS Kickoff may have officially overused them. Hopefully, this is a lesson for the FCS Kickoff to diversify the teams they host like I’ve advocated before.