I've never been to an NFL game. I really don't have any interest. In fact the only times, I've set foot in an NFL stadium is for bowl games or my sister's high school graduation (RIP Pontiac Silverdome).
But in my 30 years on this planet, I've been lucky enough to attend 151 college football games. Fourteen of those have been The Game.
The Game is, and always will be, perfect. It's Christmas/Thanksgiving/your birthday all rolled into one. It's a day I look forward to all year and I can't imagine not being in the Horseshoe or the Big House at noon on that spectacularly grey November Saturday.
But in total honesty -- I don't know if I have that many more in me.
And it's not because my fandom has lessened (it hasn't) or my responsibilities are adding up (okay, they are) or I've moved far away (buying a house close to where Woody lived was a major selling feature). It's just a matter of cost.
The cost of a Michigan-Ohio State football ticket will reach $195 per seat in 2016.
I'm no prude when it comes to ticket prices. I've happily handed over checks to Buckeye Club, the Alumni Association, and know the secondary market all too well Regrettably, I've even scrounged up over $600 to have the privilege of seeing Florida kick Ohio State's ass in person back in 2007. They are luxury items and more often than not, they've justified whatever sacrifice was made to procure them.
Ohio State football isn't a charity. We like to think that everything around is earned and that goes for playing time as much season ticket requests. After all, anything easy isn't worth a damn, right?
My first student ticket at OSU cost $80 for tilts against Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, and Purdue. Even recently $75 seemed entirely reasonable to watch The Buckeyes smash Akron or Youngstown State.
Ohio State athletic director, Gene Smith, has defended his right to raise ticket prices and has even called The Game significantly under priced. He's not wrong. The issue of supply and demand could probably justify prices of $500 per seat and we all know The Horseshoe would still be at capacity. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
There are others out there like me. From homes in the midwest and the south where college football was both theology and folklore. Where high school games on Friday nights set the table for beautiful Saturdays, and Sundays were for things other than football.
Sundays were polluted. Luxury boxes, PSL's, contract hold outs, salary caps -- items we didn't have to worry about on Saturdays. Saturdays were about football games and identity.
We were all so naive.
Despite all the background noise and everything else going on with college football, we still had The Game. It was constant. Two sturdy sons of the midwest slugging it out once a year, at the same time, every year, for everything that mattered.
When Urban Meyer was hired, he said his goal was to make the great state of Ohio proud. It's a great line and he's repeated it many times since. Gene Smith loves it so much that he has it blown up and plastered to the wall of his luxury box at Ohio Stadium hovering over C deck.
As of 2013, the average household income in Ohio was $48,308. Let's be generous and assume that's a take home pay of about $3,000 a month. Now let's say a father gets lucky enough to bring his kid to The Game. The math looks something like this: $195 x 2 game tickets + $10 parking + $25 food = $425. And this doesn't take into account of a number of variables, but we're erring on the low side in all these estimates, still it will cost the average Ohio family about 15% of their monthly income to see Michigan take on Ohio State in 2016.
Less than the cost of a trip to Disney or a new car, but a luxury item none the less. And in doing so, it's become the one thing college football should never be -- exclusionary.
Nobody thinks the Super Bowl is for fans, it's a corporate event. Fans were long ago priced out of the event in favor of execs from AT&T, Ford or whatever multi-national corporation you can think of. Basketball's Final Four is similar - an average Joe can get tickets sure, but expect to be sitting in a different zip code. Undoubtedly, college football's playoff and championship game will follow a similar progression, if they haven't already.
The Game is better than the Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean it should cost more.
Michigan's old athletic director Dave Brandon has been an easy target of jokes. Brandon sought to commercialize and modernize Michigan's athletic department -- turn a country club into something more corporate. It failed miserably.
Maybe Brandon's lasting lesson is that if you mess with tradition, if you put a cost on ritual, it almost certainly backfires. If not now, then soon.
I'm lucky enough to be able to handle the financial burden for a few more years. I hope that will always be the case and maybe I'll get the privilege sharing The Game with a kid of my own. But I know my day is coming -- probably soon. When the cost of the ticket simply outweighs the value returned.
Let's hope the changing times don't price other fans out of treasured memories.