LOS ANGELES — The bowl trip is a holiday tradition for many college football fans. Take some time off around Christmas and New Year's Day and go watch your favorite team play a big game. Maybe even the biggest game.
This season the supporters of the four teams playing in the first College Football Playoff are facing a choice about which trip to take: Semifinal or championship game?
On New Year's Day, Oregon plays Florida State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Alabama meets Ohio State at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The winners will play Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Fans of the Crimson Tide and Ducks get the benefit of games close to home. Neither Alabama nor Oregon will suffer from a lack of support in the semifinals. It's a trickier call for Florida State fans, who must make a cross-country trip. Seminoles supporters just traveled to see their team win a national title in Southern California last year, and many are hoping they made the right choice by skipping the semifinal trip.
“It was going to cost me as much as $1,000 to go with nobody I knew,” said Maxx Smith, a 21-year-old senior at Florida State. “There was no motivation to go.”
Florida State beat Auburn in the final Bowl Championship Series title game last January at the Rose Bowl. FSU fans flooded the Rose Bowl, which holds more than 92,000.
Smith was there with a group of about 40 other students. The stadium seemed to be a 50-50 split between Florida State and Auburn fans.
This season, Florida State and its booster club had a hard time selling the school's 12,500 allotment of tickets. The school gets 2,500 tickets for students, administrators and guests of players. The booster club gets 10,000 for its members to buy at $175 apiece.
The FSU booster club held a public sale of its tickets after it filled all of its requests and still had about 1,000 tickets left over.
“I chose Dallas over Pasadena because we were in Pasadena last year and it's very expensive to get out there, much more so then Dallas,” Tyler Huck, a 28-year-old FSU alum and financial planner who lives in the Atlanta area, said. “Plus, I think our fan base, myself included, has great confidence in the team to make it to that final game and I'd rather see them play for a championship than a semifinal.”
One of the big questions about the new playoff format was whether fans would travel to two games in two locations, less than two weeks apart. No longer being a final destination creates new challenges for the bowls, said Rose Bowl chief executive officer Kevin Ash.
The Rose and Sugar bowl are part of a group of six bowls that will host the semifinals on a rotating basis. The Peach Bowl in Atlanta; Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona; Orange Bowl in Miami; and Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, are the other bowls scheduled to host three semifinals over the next 12 years.
When the Rose Bowl does not host a semifinal it will instead have its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup. The Rose Bowl's contract with those conferences guarantees a sellout. Most of the tickets are distributed through the participating schools, and usually they get gobbled up. Some go to other schools in the conference.
This year, Ash and his team have had to try some different things.
“We've had to work with our partners to get tickets out and sell them,” Ash said earlier this week. “It's been a little bit different. We've had public sales. We had one in September and it went crazy. A lot of people bought tickets.”
Enough to sell out the stadium remains to be seen. The public sale tickets cost $150 or $225. But if you're looking for a ticket to Thursday's game in Pasadena, you can get one for less than face value on the online secondary market.
Oregon not only sold out its 12,500 allotment, but requested another 4,000. With plenty of Oregon alumni in California, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Ducks should feel right at home.
“It would be a completely different story if we were playing in the Sugar Bowl,” Craig Pintens, Oregon associate athletic director for marketing and public relations.
Excitement over getting into the first playoff meant Ohio State sold its allotment, plus another 500, in less than two hours.
Buckeyes fan Eric Michalski of Cleveland drove down to New Orleans and said he will go to Dallas if Ohio State advances. He decided to skip the trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
“You have to kind of pick and choose where you want to go if you don't have the time or money to do all of it,” he said. “I'm lucky. I'm self-employed, so I can get away and go to all these things.”
Some fans, such as Matthew Hood Roberts, 31, from Tallahassee, say if the Seminoles are playing, they'll be there no matter what. He's been at 25 of Florida State's 29 games during its current winning streak.
“But I definitely have to get creative as far as expenses and travel,” he said.
Roberts was scheduled to fly from Orlando, Florida, to San Diego on New Year's Eve. He booked separate one-way flights for about $600 total. Then he'll take a bus arranged by the Seminoles Booster club in San Diego to Pasadena for $75. He said he's getting a good deal on the tickets through the booster club.
And if Florida State wins, Roberts said he is willing to plunk down the $450 (at least) it would take to get a seat to see the Seminoles try to repeat.
“Yes, maybe I won't be living so great for the next year, but it's part of history,” he said. “There's not many people who can say I was at the last BCS game and at the first ever College Football Playoff game.”