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San Jose State University






Posted on Wed, Aug. 20, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Sellout possible for SJSU
BUT SCHOOL WON'T CASH IN WITH LITERACY CLASSIC

Mercury News

A potential sellout crowd will see Grambling State's football team and famous marching band Saturday when the Tigers visit San Jose State.

What the fans won't see is the Spartan Marching Band. That group wasn't invited to play.

The absence of the home team band is one of a number of ways in which the Literacy Classic game is a different experience for Spartans football. Another is that San Jose State isn't selling the tickets or getting the revenue from a game at its own stadium.

When Fitz Hill, the Spartans' coach, first proposed last year bringing Grambling to San Jose, university officials said they weren't willing to take the risk that they could sell enough tickets to cover a $275,000 guarantee to Grambling, which doesn't travel lightly when it brings along a band with more than 200 members.

San Jose State had lost money paying guarantees in past years, including one for Wisconsin in 1997, even though that game drew 23,042, the seventh-largest football crowd in Spartan Stadium history.

So Hill, now in his third year at San Jose State, turned to contacts in the African-American community and asked them to put on the event. Two executives with local non-profit groups, Tommy Fulcher of Economic and Social Opportunities, and Andre Chapman of Unity Care, took on the project.

``I was excited to have somebody in town with the energy and focus who was willing to develop a football program here,'' said Chapman, who graduated from San Jose State in 1988. ``It was a no-brainer to get involved.''

Officials with MLK Literacy Classic Inc., the non-profit group formed to produce the game and related activities, said they expect a sellout, with 24,354 of 26,350 available tickets sold or distributed, and ticket revenues of more than $500,000.

Fulcher said that in addition to the $275,000 guarantee, the Literacy Classic has told Grambling it will cover up to another $75,000 in expenses if the school cannot find in-kind donations for costs such as meals. The game also will pay Spartan Shops about $160,000 to lease the stadium and pay for game-day expenses, such as security.

Plans to sell sponsorship packages for as much as $250,000 did not succeed, but organizers sold a handful of sponsorships in the $5,000 to $25,000 range. In addition to the game, the organization is producing a series of other events this week, including a gala dinner Friday at the Fairmont Hotel and a festival near Spartan Stadium on game day. If the game turns a profit, proceeds will be spent on literacy programs, organizers said.

Hill said his experience growing up in, playing in and coaching games in the South told him an event such as the Literacy Classic could succeed in San Jose.

``I was thinking about the people who grew up down South and moved to the West Coast,'' Hill said. ``Most of the people who moved out have roots down there, and there's a large alumni base from Grambling in L.A., the Oakland area, and this would be a way to reconnect.''

Hill and Grambling Coach Doug Williams are already in talks about bringing the team back in 2004, although no deal has been completed.

Finding creative ways to fill Spartan Stadium is a major priority for Hill, who has taken on a program that is threatened by new NCAA rules, which take effect in 2004, requiring Division I teams to host at least five home games and have an average attendance of 15,000. The Spartans averaged 10,360 in four home games last year.

``Dealing with this attendance issue, it's very important we tap into a new fan base,'' Hill said. University officials ``wanted to put on the game, but they couldn't. That's when I went to the community.''

In addition to a potential return by Grambling, the 2004 schedule includes home dates with Stanford and Western Athletic Conference rival Fresno State, both of which are potential large draws.

As far as the Spartan band is concerned, band director Scott Pierson said he was told by university officials last February that Grambling's band alone would perform at halftime. Pierson said that he decided it was ``no big deal'' because he couldn't figure out a way to get his band prepared in time anyway, given that the game is being played the weekend before the school year begins.

``Normally, we don't have a complete band until after the end of the first week of school,'' Pierson said. ``We just wouldn't have had enough time to practice and sound like anything.''


Contact Barry Witt at bwitt@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5703.
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