The Fall Was 'Black Friday' for America's College Football Towns

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“I have my job because of Coach Swinney.” So said an employee of The Abernathy a few springs ago to yours truly.

“Coach Swinney” is Dabo Swinney, head coach of the nearly always-in-title-contention Clemson Tigers. Swinney’s remarkable success has touched not just his players, along with Clemson grads who have a degree that is increasingly well known. Swinney’s achievements spread throughout the town of Clemson, along with the cities and towns that abut the college-football mecca.

So what is The Abernathy? It’s a high-end hotel across the street from the Clemson campus that fills up on fall weekends as a consequence of the success of the Clemson football team. The Abernathy exists because of the football team. Rooms at the hotel are booked well in advance of each season, as are rooms at hotels, motels and Airbnb-style set-ups near and somewhat far from the campus. When a college football team is booming, so booms the economy in and around the town that the team is located in. Growth is a consequence of success on the field.

This is true across the U.S. While Clemson is in the well-regarded ACC, more and more SEC (the premiere college football conference) teams can claim stadiums that hold over 100,000 fans. Crucial is that the 100,000+ that fill these stadiums only tells part of a much bigger economic story.

It’s said about Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama), Baton Rouge (LSU), Athens (Georgia), and nearly every other SEC school that the population of each’s town triples on football weekends. Get it? Fans travel to see their favorite college football teams even when they’re unable to see them “in person.”

LSU partisans think of Baton Rouge as the tailgating capital of the world.  The party begins on fall Fridays, but some arrive mid-week.

In Austin, TX (University of Texas), the bars and restaurants near Darrel K. Royal Stadium are as packed as the stadium on fall Saturdays. The Texas Ex center across the street is seen by all-too-many Longhorn diehards as a better place to enjoy the game than the stadium itself. Hotel in availability in Austin in the fall? Forget about it. Book well in advance.

What’s true in the college towns mentioned is also true in Stillwater, Madison, Ann Arbor, Columbus, and every other college town that can claim a football team of note. It’s more and more true that fall weekends are a time of socializing and fun regardless of whether fans are in the stadium.

Except for this fall. As Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger recently reported, LSU, “the tailgating capital of the world,” has largely banned tailgating. Towns like Baton Rouge that would normally have been packed last Saturday, were not.

Panicky politicians from across the U.S. have decided that Americans can’t look out for themselves, and since they can’t be trusted to protect themselves from potential illness, or death in the rarest of instances, they must have what gives them joy banned. That families have for the longest time encouraged those not infected to be around the infected in order to enhance immunity, is one of many truths that’s been lost in the panic.

Of course, the biggest forgotten truth in this tragic lapse of reason has been the one about economic growth. You quite simply cannot achieve medical progress without it. The reality is that most experiments and studies in search of virus cures come up short. Very short. That they do speaks to the importance of economic growth. Without it, the resources available to scientists and doctors will necessarily be shrunken. Reduced experimentation means reduced failure, which means less information and less progress toward cures. Growth first, then medical progress.

Politicians in their wisdom forgot the growth part. Historians will marvel. So desperate to make us feel better, the clowns forced economic desperation as their answer. You cannot make this up.

There are so many angles to this hideous story, but consider college football towns. While some businesses achieve profitability on the day after Thanksgiving, and others do so during the summer, it’s no reach to say that businesses in college football towns achieve profitability each fall. Without the tripling of population that football represents, the economics of starting and owning a restaurant, hotel, bar, or rental house make quite a bit less sense.

There will be no profit make-ups this fall. Politicians think they know better. Spooked by a virus that half don’t even know they have, nail-biting politicians decided to make decisions for business owners. Yes, the class of individuals who run the DMV and other monuments to inefficiency decided that they would make decisions for those with real money, and frequently their life’s work on the line. The arrogance of power is staggering.

Every business success is a bit of a miracle in consideration of how many don’t make it, but this seemingly means little to politicians. Because “they care,” or something like that, they’ve decided to make what’s very challenging near impossible. All of which speaks to something beyond arrogance. Really, how childish to presume businesses could be put in deep freeze without dying. How cruel for politicians to break things so thoroughly that proud business owners were essentially forced to request aid from the same politicians who mindlessly created broad economic wreckage in the first place.

Needless to say, college towns are quiet this fall. During the week, and most notably on weekends. There will be no “Black Friday” in College Station, Tallahassee, and Knoxville this fall. Instead, there will be bankruptcy, desperation, and honest business owners forced to start all over again. Fewer Abernathy employees have jobs thanks to "Coach Swinney." Aren’t politicians compassionate?

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at  

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