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#pounditSunday, November 27, 2022

Troy Aikman absolutely rips into UCLA

Oct 21, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; NFL Half of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Aikman absolutely ripped into his alma mater on Saturday after UCLA had terrible attendance for their game against South Alabama.

UCLA allegedly drew 29,344 fans for Saturday’s 32-21 win over South Alabama, which was the second-smallest crowd ever for a UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl.

A photo of the game’s attendance was shared on Twitter and drew Aikman’s attention.

Aikman responded on Twitter, calling the attendance an “embarrassment.”

“This is an embarrassment but we couldn’t fill the Rose Bowl in 1988 when we were the #1 team in the country. Anyone else at UCLA think it’s time for an on-campus 30,000 seat stadium? Of course, if we can’t play better than we did today, it would be half-empty too,” Aikman wrote on Twitter.

Aikman, 55, spent half his childhood in Southern California, not far from the Rose Bowl. He spent the second half in Oklahoma, which is where he initially went to college. Aikman transferred to UCLA and was there from 1986-1988. He led the team to a 20-4 record in his two seasons, and he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2014. So the lack of attendance bothers him personally as a former star quarterback for the team. And despite his comments, the attendance at his games was still strong and much better than this.

As a fellow UCLA alum and fan of the team, this issue is personal to me, and I can share my take.

First off, the Rose Bowl is located in Pasadena, and it can easily take over an hour to get there from campus. It’s just not very friendly for students to attend. This has long been an issue, and it will always result in lower attendance from students than some other schools. But building a stadium on campus does not seem feasible due to space issues, and problems with the homeowners in Westwood.

Second, UCLA is on the academic quarter system rather than semesters, so school hasn’t even begun when the first few games of the season take place. The lack of student attendance at the early games in the season has long been a problem.

Third, UCLA’s non-conference schedule is atrocious. They’re facing a murderer’s row of Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama. Who the heck wants to see UCLA play those three schools? Nobody, and it shows.

Fourth, the team isn’t good and hasn’t been good for a while. They had five straight losing seasons from 2016-2020. Chip Kelly stunk when he began his tenure. There were a lot of people who didn’t want Jim Mora fired to begin with (myself included), and then Kelly just obliterated any credibility the program had left. Who wants to go watch a losing team? UCLA barely squeaked by South Alabama. Aikman played under Terry Donahue, who coached from 1976-1995. Donahue took the Bruins to a bowl game regularly and finished in the top 20 in the country 11 times in 20 years. Since 2000, UCLA has only finished ranked three times. The losing has taken its toll.

Fifth, UCLA has treated its fans like crap, and the fans are turning on the school. UCLA completely deprioritized sports during COVID, and seemed to take pride in that fact. They didn’t allow fans to attend any games in 2020. The athletic department outright canceled their bowl game hours before kickoff last season, spitting in the face of fans who had traveled to the game. They didn’t allow fans at basketball games for a portion of last season, and sometimes canceled games with very little advanced notification to the fans. Fans who have DirecTV haven’t been able to watch many of the games, which are televised on Pac-12 Network, which DirecTV does not air. UCLA is also leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, destroying decades of tradition the fans are accustomed to. Is it any surprise the fans have in turn lost interest in the teams?

UCLA has made it harder and harder to be a fan of their athletic teams. Citing COVID issues, the school willingly blocked fans from attending games, with little regard for the inconvenience and ill-feelings they were causing the fans. Remember, these are the diehard fans they treated this way, the ones who travel to a bowl game and who tough LA traffic on a weeknight to attend a basketball game. You can’t repeatedly tell fans they’re not allowed to come — or that ‘we’re not playing’ — and then wonder where all the fans went and why they won’t come back when you ask them to.

Lastly, and this is an anecdote, but the school has done a poor job selling tickets. I live pretty close to the Rose Bowl and have some neighbors who have two young kids. Our neighbors told me they called the ticket office last year to try and get season tickets because they thought it would be a fun Saturday activity in the fall for their family. They said nobody picked up, so they left a message. Nobody answered, nobody called back. They basically told me they begged UCLA/the Rose Bowl to take their money, and the school dropped the ball. Maybe UCLA didn’t want to sell the tickets because they were planning to play another fanless season?

If Aikman wants to point the finger, he should look first at the school’s leadership, the UC Board of Regents, the school president and athletic director, and also Kelly, who wanted a cupcake schedule. At every turn, the school has proven they don’t care about football. You can’t really blame the fans for responding the way they have.

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