Florida Gators fans, a Black Friday game vs. Florida State is not bad news
FSU dropped a scheduling bomb Monday night when it announced its Thanksgiving Weekend game was moving from Saturday to Friday night.
The opponent, of course, is Florida.
Based on the social media reaction, you’d think tradition is being trashed, plans are hopelessly ruined and FSU might as well be moving the game to Kabul on Christmas morning.
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I have two words of advice:
Sure, if you’ve already bought plane tickets to Tallahassee for Saturday, Nov. 26, you should be upset. Or if you’re a high-school football fan and want to watch a playoff game that night, college football owes you an apology.
Otherwise, take a deep breath and weigh the pros and cons. The first pro is exposure.
Friday night lights equals prime-time ratings
Assuming the programs want that, they’ll get a lot more of it. There will be about two dozen other games televised Saturday, including doozies like Ohio State-Michigan, USC-Notre Dame and Alabama-Auburn.
Instead of getting lost in that shuffle, Florida-FSU (or FSU-Florida, if you prefer) will have a prime-time stage to itself. Last year’s Friday night game on ESPN had 2.68 million viewers, while the noon Saturday game between FSU and Florida had 1.62 million.
Speaking of kickoff times, Monday’s announcement is a blessing. We usually don’t know when the game will start until 12 or sometimes six days before kickoff.
You might not know until the Monday of Thanksgiving week whether you’d have to be in Tallahassee for a noon start or a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Was that any fun?
Now you have nine months to make plans. As for Thanksgiving travel hassles, the American Automobile Association says the most congested driving days that week are Wednesday and Sunday. Friday shouldn’t be any worse than Saturday if you’re driving to Tallahassee.
And most Florida fans won’t be, since the visiting school is allotted only 6,000 tickets. There may be two or three times that many UF fans at Doak-Campbell Stadium, but the vast majority will only have to travel as far as their living rooms to see the game.
These are the pros, and Florida can’t really take any credit for them — or blame. This was FSU’s home game and FSU’s call, though it was really made by the ACC.
Check that, it was made by ESPN in consultation with the ACC and FSU. Feel free to complain about TV dictating starting times, but that griping became futile about 30 years ago.
Florida gets about $45 million in TV revenue through the SEC, and that number is going to skyrocket when a 10-year, $3 billion contract starts in 2024. For that kind of money, the Gators would play in Kabul on Christmas Day if that’s what ESPN wanted.
And that Christmas Day wouldn’t even have to be a Saturday.
That’s another thing that’s bothering people. Florida hasn’t played a non-Saturday game since 1992, and the FSU hasn’t been on Friday since 1979.
I know college football is all about tradition, but those hardly rank up there with the Gator Chomp or Chief Osceola planting his spear. A Friday game might be a nice break. If nothing else, it will give you plenty of unusual viewing (or shopping) flexibility for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The real issue here isn’t the timing or the traffic or the tradition. It’s the Seminoles.
That sentiment goes back to when that li’l ol’ women’s college in Tallahassee started itching to play football against the state’s flagship university. Gov. LeRoy Collins and other power brokers eventually had to hold a gun to UF’s head, and the school graciously agreed to let the Seminoles play the first six games at Florida Field.
Sixty-plus years later, Gators still don’t like being dictated to by FSU.
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All I can say is what’s the real downside here?
You can enjoy Thanksgiving, take a nice drive to the state capital the next day, cheer for your favorite team, drive home Saturday and have an extra day to get geared up for the work week.
Or you can gorge on turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie Thursday. Shop, play golf or watch football the next day. Then heat up some leftovers, settle in that night and (maybe) witness Billy Napier’s team beat those upstarts from Tallahassee.
Sounds like a pretty good Thanksgiving to me.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley