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DOMINGUEZ

New Slogan: No Crowds to Fight

September 03, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ

The shouts are heard every fall.

Not from die-hard fans rooting for college football teams in the region, but from frustrated athletic directors, coaches and players who wonder where the crowds have gone.

The answer: probably fishing. Or the beach. Or the movies.

Anyplace but a game at Cal State Northridge or Cal Lutheran or a junior college.

Some call it a sign of the times. They say the glory days of college football in the Valley, when sizable crowds were common, especially at meaningful matchups, are over.

They say it's time to stop moping about it. Chuck Ferrero, Valley College's athletic director and former football coach, agrees.

"It's just an extension of the whole athletic picture in Los Angeles," Ferrero said. "The pro [football] teams didn't draw well. USC and UCLA, when they're winning, are lucky to get 70,000 people. They would draw 100,000 if they played someplace else."

Ferrero, who once cringed at the sight of empty seats at Valley's football stadium, is unhappy about the vanishing fans, but is not beating his head about it.

Even at Valley, a nationally prominent program the last few years, attracting 1,000 people to a game is a hard sell. Sometimes no more than 25 souls show up with the visiting team, usually toting complimentary tickets sent to that school by Ferrero, as required by conference rules.

"We had a game here a few years ago, we sold one [game] program on the visitors' side," Ferrero said.

Ferrero laughs at the story, choosing to keep his sanity rather than lose it over the harsh realities of college football in the region. It's not like he doesn't care, but the forces pulling in the other direction are gaining strength every day.

"There are too many shows in town," Ferrero said. "The area is over-saturated with opportunities to watch athletics.

"The other factor is the freeway congestion. The distances are too far to drive and people get tired of the rat race. You can turn on the TV and watch all the games you want and not have to get in a car and then pay money to watch a game. You have to have a vested interest."

Or the schools have to come up with gimmicks, like the one at Northridge, where a guy won $10,000 in a skills contest at halftime of an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday.

The school bought the prize for $500 from a company that insures promotions and plans to hold similar contests at home games, hoping to generate fan interest.

Which is a shame, because there are good college teams and dazzling players in the region and it is they, not the prospect of winning a barrel of money, who should be the main attraction.

At Division I-AA Northridge, for instance, people have a chance this season to watch some exceptional talent.

There's bruising running back Melvin Blue, a transfer from Utah State touted as a pro prospect. There's cornerback Mel Miller, a two-year starter at Washington who has Northridge coaches pinching themselves. There's junior Aaron Arnold, a big-play receiver with unlimited potential.

And that doesn't include the visiting opponents: Montana's heralded quarterback Brian Ah Yat, Eastern Washington's blue-collar running back Mike MacKenzie and Portland State's exciting sophomore tailback Charles "Chip" Dunn.

The same goes for junior colleges, where future Division I players sharpen their skills or straighten out their academics.

Unfortunately, as Ferrero points out, they are destined to go mostly unnoticed in their backyard.

"There are too many things that take people's time," Ferrero said. "People have only so much time."

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