Monday, November 11, 2013

Clemson, Thursday Nights, & Taylor Swift

Come Thursday, Clemson will play the role of good soldier for the second time this year as they host Georgia Tech. But this year isn’t unique for Clemson as Thursday’s game will mark the 12th Thursday night game Clemson has played since 2002, or an average of one every year. During this 12 year span, Clemson has played in at least one Thursday night contest nine times.

For a school that has been vocal in their dislike of Thursday night games, averaging one game a year seems heavy. A little too heavy.

Before anyone brings up the ACC TV contract, let me state I understand Clemson is within a conference that has agreed to certain television rights, and as a member of said conference, Clemson must help fulfill those conference obligations. That being said, I'm comfortable saying this: The burden (yes, burden) of Thursday night games has not been equally carried among all capable parties. And while that is a major concern, it is not the only concern.

With apologies to Taylor Swift, here are five reasons Clemson & Thursday nights should Never Ever Get Back Together Again:

Beast of Burden
As mentioned above, Clemson has borne more than their fair share of the burden. Unless the ACC has exclusive rights to the Thursday night market (they don't), then no ACC school should average a game a year (13 weeks of football, multiple conferences, multiple schools per conference, equals well less than 1 game every year). Unless you request it (looking to you VT & USC).

To show how out of balance the Thursday night responsibilities fall, in the last 11+ years (since 2002), Clemson's 12 appearances are topped by only VT (23 - 16 while in the ACC), Miami (17 - 11 while in the ACC), NC State (13), and Georgia Tech (13).

Furthermore, FSU has played 10 games (too many) while Wake, Maryland (none since ’08), UVA, BC (2 since ’07), & UNC all top out at a maximum of 8 games.

And then there's Duke. The pride of the ACC in basketball has never graced a Thursday night in football. Never.

Bad Company
If Thursday night games are such a good deal for the school, then why don't all schools play them? While the SEC's presence on Thursday night isn't as prevalent as the ACC's, the SEC is no stranger to Thursday night games. In that same 12 year timeframe, the SEC has played in 36 Thursday night games (or 1/3 the total of the ACC). Of those 36 games, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee played nary a one, while Alabama (against Georgia State 10 days prior to Auburn) & Arkansas only have one notch. Additionally, LSU and Ole Miss have only played two Thursday night games each.

Conversely, USC has played in 13 Thursday night games, or over 1/3 of the SEC's total, while Auburn, Vandy, Miss St, & Kentucky have accounted for another 17 games.

Doesn't the ACC have the same rights as the SEC to choose which teams will and will not play on Thursdays? Can't the ACC hand Pitt, Syracuse, Duke, & Wake to ESPN and make them take it? That's what the SEC does, and no one seems to mind. Not ESPN or the schools.

Regardless, why would the ACC trot out Clemson, Florida State, & Georgia Tech, representatives of half of the available Championship game slots, so often when those schools have more to lose than gain? When they lose, the conference loses. And right now, this conference needs all the wins it can get. Furthermore, why would the ACC trot out games in which those teams face each other? One is guaranteed to lose on national television

We are Who We Thought They Were
Let's be honest, nothing good will come from Thursday night's tangle with Georgia Tech. One of three results will happen:

    - Clemson routs Georgia Tech
    - Clemson wins a close game
    - Georgia Tech pulls the upset

If Clemson routs Georgia Tech, a team currently tied for the Coastal Division lead, what does that do other than make people think the ACC is bad, which could in turn impact voters’ opinions of the strength of other teams in the ACC, a la FSU & Clemson, one of which is battling for a BCS Championship birth and the other a BCS bid.

If Clemson sneaks by Georgia Tech, the shine of Clemson’s Top 10 ranking could be quickly eroded. The national media, especially the AP, could drop Clemson a few spots in the polls, which could potentially cost them an opportunity at an at-large BCS bid, which in turns costs the ACC bowl revenue.

If Georgia Tech defeats Clemson, the ACC will be ridiculed for being too balanced and mediocre. Plus, Clemson gets permanently tattooed with the "Pulling a Clemson" label.

Lose-Lose for all involved.

Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful
To colleges, fall Saturday’s turn into the epicenter of all athletic endeavors. It is the financial driver of the athletic program and the cornerstone of recruiting. The issue is we’re only graced with 6-7 of these opportunities each year. When you are forced to host a Thursday night game, you miss out on many opportunities a normal Saturday brings.

There is no better recruiting tool in college football than the gameday experience. Recruits are able to see the inner workings of the program and get a taste of what to expect when they enroll. For the Georgia game, nearly 40 potential recruits were in attendance. BC: over 20. FSU, over 70. Even SC State drew 8 recruits.

Guess how many will be at the Thursday night Georgia Tech game. None. Absolutely none.

Of Clemson’s five home games, three have been sell outs, including a game against an FCS opponent. Clemson’s worst attendance so far is 77.5k against BC.

Guess how many will be at the Thursday night Georgia Tech game? Under 70k, or few enough the University is running ticket specials at half off. Stub Hub is selling them for $15 apiece. And guess how that plays out on national tv? Bad. Real bad. Florida homecoming bad.

Two Side of Lonely
While the ESPN Thursday night games get solid ratings, they don’t provide the return on investment you would expect. The first 10 Thursday night games of 2013 have provided an average rating of 1.5/2.5 (Rating/Million Viewers), or equivalent to the noon ESPN game.

In fact, the Thursday night game has never finished better than the 6th best time slot for the weekend, falling behind each of the Saturday ESPN games, both ABC games, and the CBS & FOX game. Other than Clemson’s ESPNU game against Wake, their Saturday games have outdrawn that week’s Thursday night game, which includes the BC, Maryland, and Virginia games.

Even this past week’s Thursday night showdown between Oregon & Stanford only drew a 2.2 rating, or less than ESPN’s season opening game between USC and UNC. That would rank it as the 42nd best time slot for the year, behind such snooze fests as Syracuse-Penn State, San Diego St-Ohio St, & Michigan-UConn.

There may have been a time when Clemson playing on a Thursday night was good publicity for the school, where the tv ratings, announcers, and campus previews overcame Clemson's well documented Thursday night struggles (maybe this is part of the "Pulling a Clemson" problem we're trying to overcome).

But that time is no more.

For teams like Clemson and Florida State the stakes are high, more so than other ACC teams. Clemson is in line for a BCS bid and Florida State is closing in on a BCS National Championship bid. The stakes are too high to be put to the Thursday night fire. Even if Clemson puts a beat down on Georgia Tech, the service life of that win is short as it is essentially forgotten by the time the Saturday afternoon games roll in.

So, after this year's fling, Clemson and Thursday nights "Should Never Ever Get Back Together Again".

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