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Stanford's Apathy; McCaffrey's Return; Surprising World Series Matchup

Stanford gave a party Saturday, but no one came.

The Cardinal was coming off an upset win over Notre Dame. It was homecoming weekend. And after weeks, seemingly years, of late night starting times, a kickoff was finally scheduled for 1:00, the ideal time for tailgating and for avoiding a late-night drive home.

So what kind of crowd showed up? One of the smallest in Stanford history.

Stanford announced the attendance as 25,061, but it appeared to be less than half that number.

Perhaps the fans knew that the game would be a field goal festival, the equivalent of a bullpen game in baseball. Or perhaps the alumni revelers stayed out in Chuck Taylor Grove.

But clearly, Stanford has a huge problem with fan apathy. There are many factors at work here. I’ll try to outline the major ones.

First, Stanford’s fan base has gotten older and older. Each year, more of the old-timers opt to stay home and watch the game in the comfort of their home—where the bathroom is down the hall, the parking space is in the garage, the beer is in the fridge, and the replays are up close on the 60 inch TV—rather than making the trek to the stadium.

Second, a large segment of the “instant gratification” younger crowd is not interested in football at all (see Stanford’s student body) or not interested in sitting through a three-and-a-half hour game in person with spotty internet service and tons of down time between plays.

Third, Stanford’s program has been in decline over the past several years. The combination of a losing team, a lackluster offense, and the absence of a prime time player like Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart, Bryce Love or Christian McCaffrey has left many Stanford fans reaching for the remote rather than attending games in person.

Fourth, game presentation at Stanford Stadium is awful. Sorry, but that’s the truth. As an SID and bowl director, I’ve been to football games all over the country in at least 60 different stadiums, and Stanford’s presentation may be the worst in college football. Everything from ushers and stadium access, to intros, PA, halftimes and music need to be revamped.

Fifth, the uncertain starting times, a universal problem, is even more damaging at Stanford because of all the other entertainment options available in the Bay Area.

As for the play on the field, Stanford’s win Saturday was its first conference victory in over a year. Yet it was nothing to get excited about.

The Cardinal failed to score a touchdown and only won the game because Arizona State’s pass to the goal line with three seconds left was ruled incomplete when the receiver’s foot came down a few inches out of bounds.

Stanford used to be known for exiting, wide-open, innovative offenses. No more.

Saturday, Stanford ran 83 plays without a single "chunk" play. The longest gain was 23 yards and there were only three plays over 20 yards. It wasn't that long ago that McCaffrey and Love were breaking 50-yard runs every game, and Luck was unloading downfield bombs.

It’s time to face reality, which means someone else needs to be calling the plays. Whether it’s head coach David Shaw or offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard, the play-calling has been predictable, boring, and unimaginative. As we suggested last season, a proven play-caller needs to be hired to take over.

The other changes I recommended a few weeks ago—increasing transfer access, making the Alston payments, and facilitating NIL compensation—must also be made.

Unless Stanford can make these changes, the Cardinal can look forward to many more embarrassing crowds like Saturday's and an increasingly non-competitive program in the NIL and transfer portal era.

McCaffrey’s Return: Speaking of one of Stanford’s most exciting players, the biggest news in the Bay Area last week was the 49ers’ trade for Christian McCaffrey. Although he only saw limited action yesterday in the blowout loss to Kansas City, McCaffrey will be a huge boost to the 49ers chances to earn a playoff spot.

Many of the stories about McCaffrey’s return to the Bay Area have noted his record-setting performance at Levi’s Stadium in the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game against USC, when he racked up 461 all-purpose yards.

But before that, we had the pleasure of hosting him and Stanford in the 2014 Foster Farms Bowl. McCaffrey ignited Stanford's 45-21 win over Maryland with 57 rushing yards and 81 on punt returns. He had a remarkable 22-yard run in which he reversed field and hurtled a Maryland tackler, and a couple of dazzling punt returns.

During the game, Christian’s father, Ed McCaffrey, who was seated in one of the suites at Levi’s, was shown on TV doing the Heisman pose after one of his son’s electrifying runs. Sure enough, the following year Christian broke Barry Sanders' NCAA record for total rushing/receiving yardage with 2664 (2019 rushing, 645 receiving) and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

He should’ve won.

World Series: A matchup no one would've predicted. The Houston Astros, who've won the American League Championship series four times in the last six years, vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, the last team to qualify for the playoffs.

The Phillies finished third in the NL East with an 87-75 record, 14-games behind the division winning Atlanta Braves. They only made it into the playoffs because MLB expanded the number of teams to make the post-season this year.

But with Bryce Harper, perhaps the best hitter in baseball, along with the NL's home run champ Kyle Schwarber and emerging star Rhys Hoskins, Philly has defied the odds.

I think the Astros are too talented for the Phillies' team of destiny to win the Series. And I’d love to see Dusty Baker get the one thing his resume lacks. I'll say Astros in 6.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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