On NET's Big Red Wrapup last week, host Kevin Kugler interviewed Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne and passed on a viewer's question from "Eric" about Thursday night games, and specifically in Lincoln. Osborne raised eyebrows by suggesting that the athletic department was considering one in Lincoln next season. (Fast forward to 32:40 into the webcasted archive.) Todd Heinrich of the Lincoln Journal-Star looked at next season's schedule and suggests that the NU/Texas game would be a candidate. Both the Huskers and Longhorns have bye-weeks scheduled for October 9th, 2010, making a Thursday game on October 14th attractive from a football perspective.
Nebraska's 27-12 victory over Missouri in a monsoon is proving to be an example of the positives of playing football on Thursday night. Ndamukong Suh suddenly jumped into Heisman contention, not on the basis of crazy Husker fan speculation, but rather the national sports media who focused exclusively on the game. Matt Hinton (Dr. Saturday), ESPN Radio's Trevor Matich, Derick Samson (Sporting News), and ESPN.com's Tim Griffin and Bruce Feldman all suggest that Suh is Heisman candidate-worthy at this point of the season. Without that national stage, this speculation might have been limited in large part to the local media who watched the game, such as the Columbia Tribune's Dave Matter or Steve Sipple.
Playing on a marquee stage is also attractive to recruits. It's no coincidence that Nebraska received two verbal commitments from highly sought-after players. One from Columbia, Missouri no less, and the other from Clearwater, Florida.
So now that we've seen the positives of playing on a Thursday night, we need to look at the negatives.First of all, it's bad for ticketholders. Nebraska returned 100 unsold tickets to Missouri; that's unheard of for a matchup like this. A game like this requires many working fans to take vacation, especially for fans from out of town. Even for fans who decide to watch on TV, it becomes a challenge to the workday. If your workplace was anything like mine, the number one topic around the coffee machine was the game. And coffee was definitely in order even for people who normally don't drink the stuff when the game didn't get over until after 11 pm locally. (I personally was so wired after the game, I didn't fall asleep until after 1:30 am...making that alarm clock going off at 5:45 am especially annoying.)
It's also hard on the University. Unlike no other event on campus, the tens of thousands of football fans create logistical nightmares incompatible with the main purpose of the school: academics. Those thousands of fans need parking places and tailgating opportunities, the noise makes it difficult to hold classes in nearby buildings, and students will simply skip class. After Nebraska moved the Rice game to a Thursday night after 9/11, Nebraska learned just how disruptive a football game was. I thought at that time that would be a "never again/last resort" scenario, but now I'm being proven wrong. Never say never.
It's also rough on the Lincoln economy. People who normally spend the day in Lincoln at bars and restaurants now streamline their game day, compressing it into the post-workday hours. Race to Lincoln, grab fast food perhaps (or a $4 pizza slice at the game), slide into your seat, hopefully in time for the Tunnel Walk, then race home.
My personal take is that while Nebraska is getting a lot of benefit from Thursday night, Thursday's night's performance was special enough by itself to earn much of the upside. Being the main event on the Thursday sports calendar (aside from the St. Louis Cardinals choke job against the Los Angeles Dodgers) added to it, but Suh's performance would have stood out yesterday as well. On the other side, the negatives of a poor performance would have been magnified. Imagine the outcry last season if the Oklahoma or Missouri games were on Thursday night. (Or even worse, what about the 2007 Kansas or Oklahoma State games?)
The negatives for fans and the school also come into play. While television brings welcome attention and revenue, it pales in comparison to the $5 million that fans bring each and every week to home games. Moving games to Thursday night is taking somewhat unfair advantage of the fans who have sold out Memorial Stadium for 47 years.
And for next season's Nebraska/Texas game, it's probably not necessary and might actually be counterproductive. Don't you think that ABC might be interested in a Nebraska/Texas game for their Saturday Night primetime game...possibly bringing College GameDay to Lincoln as well? Wouldn't that be just as big...if not bigger stage for this matchup?