Recapture that game-day spirit

Getting Started

Your Money

September 26, 2004|By CAROLYN BIGDA

WE'RE A FEW weeks into college football season, and for veteran alumni and recent graduates, the nostalgia for game-day camaraderie is hitting hard.

You don't have to be a fat-cat donor to get in on the fun. Even with last-minute planning and a tight budget, you can find ways to reconnect with the spirit of college football weekend.

Delta Air Lines is offering discounts on flights to select games this season through its Fan Fares promotion. Tickets are listed the Monday before kickoff at www.delta.com/fanfares.

Joe Cahn, who has visited more than 70 college stadiums and calls himself the "commissioner of tailgating," recommends staying for the weekend.

"After the game, it's fun to walk around and see a little bit of the community or revisit the old haunts on your campus, even see things you may never have noticed when you were in college," Cahn says.

Starting with Louisiana State University, Cahn has made a career of tailgating at professional and college football stadiums nationwide. He shares recipes and other tips at tailgating.com.

For other travel deals, check your alumni association's Web site. My alma mater, Northwestern University, has arranged discounts at hotels nationwide for Wildcat fans.

Most alumni associations offer all-inclusive packages that cover tickets, travel, lodging and food.

Graduates of the University of Connecticut, whose football team joined the Big East Conference this year, can take advantage of organized trips to every away game. Buses even leave from various places across the state.

The package deal is hassle-free, especially for bowl games, when hotel rooms and tickets are in high demand, but you pay a slight premium for the tour operator's service.

You can plan your weekend with the help of johnnyroadtrip.com. The site provides statistics on parking and seating arrangements at more than 50 college stadiums, along with suggestions on where to stay and eat.

A message board connects you to local fans who can offer advice.

Greg Pyne, who founded johnnyroadtrip.com with his brother, offers this tip from years of experience: "Be aware of the cost difference in a hotel that is walking distance to a stadium and one that's farther away," says the Carnegie Mellon alumnus (but diehard University of Maryland fan). "Or at least check that there's a free shuttle."

When you arrive at the stadium, be sure to take advantage of the tailgating events that begin several hours before game time.

The University of Florida alumni association is host of Gator gatherings starting three hours before both home and away games. The music and food is free for association members and $5 for nonmembers.

Not only do you get to snack on chicken and ribs, among other tailgating delicacies, but you also get a great opportunity for networking and bumping into old friends.

If a weekend trip is not possible, you can watch the game with other campus expatriates at the local alumni club, bar or restaurant. Check your school's Web site to find the one nearest to you.

Rob Bertman, a 25-year-old stock trader, was at the Park Avenue Country Club in New York City a few weeks ago to watch his alma mater, the University of Michigan, beat Miami University of Ohio.

"It's not quite the excitement of being at the stadium," said Bertman, who sat amid a roomful of fans clad in maize and blue, "but you get the atmosphere of being at the game."

This weekend, Bertman planned to be in Ann Arbor rooting for his team.

His plan to keep costs low is "Stay with friends."

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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