It’ll occur when you pack your bags Friday, ready for a weekend trip to Houston. After getting gas for your five hour drive you’ll pass Tiger Stadium, recently refurbished and expanded.
Then you might ask yourself, “If we have a great stadium, why are we driving to Texas to play in another one?”
It is now known that LSU is the reason the Tigers are playing at neutral sites for their two-year rivalry with Wisconsin. At Big Ten Media Day this season, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said he “would have said yes” to a home-and-home series against LSU.
The statement sparked hate from many LSU fans, questioning the point of having such a sparkling stadium if LSU was only going to host the Sam Houston States of the world. The stadium looks bigger and more imposing than ever, it would only make sense to show it off.
Junior cornerback Jalen Collins said he would prefer playing a home-and-home series rather than neutral sites.
“I would definitely take playing in Tiger Stadium and then playing them at their place,” Collins said. “I would definitely sacrifice [playing at Wisconsin one season]. Getting that home-field advantage because here we have the best atmosphere in college football.”
The last time I remember LSU hosting a big non conference team, it went pretty well. In September 2007, LSU destroyed eventual Atlantic Coast Conference champions Virginia Tech 48-7. The game couldn’t have been more one-sided, and it helped propel the Tigers to their third national championship.
The reason LSU has shied away from these games and gone for neutral site games is simple: LSU is going national.
That’s what happens when you play in Dallas, Atlanta and Houston enough times to start the season. With each of these games comes a guaranteed primetime television spot, and with that comes national recognition and a good deal of revenue.
The neutral sites also help LSU expand its reach in both recruiting and as a fan base. Kids can be easily influenced, and seeing the Tigers play in their hometown can make them either want to play for LSU or become a fan.
The largest factor is how big the alumni base is in cities like Houston and Dallas. LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva knows the stadiums there can be filled, and he knows LSU fans will travel anywhere else.
LSU fans, however, know nothing is going to compare to playing at Tiger Stadium, no matter how many seats are filled.
There hasn’t been reason to change so far, with the Tigers going 3-0 in their last three neutral site non-conference games. But all it takes is one loss, and the murmurs of having to play in Houston will quickly turn to yelling.
Oregon learned its lesson in 2011 when they lost to LSU 40-27 in Dallas to begin the season. Starting this season, the Ducks will begin a home-and-home series against Michigan State. It might be a coincidence, but it should still be noted.
I’m not saying LSU is going to lose to Wisconsin, and I’m not even saying neutral sites are a bad thing. What I’m saying is that LSU is at a crossroads: it can be a program that serves its fans, or a program that serves its brand.
Tommy Romanach is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from Dallas, Texas. You can reach him on Twitter @troman_28