Hackenberg: Weeknight football a bad deal for fans

Nov 8 2011 - 10:46pm

At the risk of being repetitive -- I've said this before and I'll say it again -- weeknight college football stinks.

Yeah, there are two sides to every coin, I know. And "coin" is the operative word here.

The Mid-American Conference is in the midst of an eight-year deal with the ESPN networks for a reported $8 million total. Frankly, with TV money being what it is, it sounds like the MAC got snookered if, indeed, $1 million annually is an accurate figure. But those numbers are market driven and, frankly, the MAC doesn't drive much market. I suppose the league got what it could get.

In exchange for ESPN's money, the MAC agrees to schedule a number of late-season games on weeknights. This year, the number is 13 games.

This is good for ESPN's various outlets because it provides weeknight-prime-time inventory aside from documentaries, films, poker, two-decade-old welterweight boxing matches and Real Madrid soccer games.

It is good for the MAC because of the money and the fact that the deal provides rare center-stage national exposure for the league's schools and football programs. It's like a three-hour infomercial that coaches insist aids in recruiting.

But there's nothing good about it for MAC fans in local settings. It's just another reason to stay away. Hopefully, however much of that $1 million trickles down to each school annually defrays lost ticket revenue.

Last Tuesday there were an alleged 19,004 fans at the Glass Bowl for Toledo's biggest MAC home game of the season against Northern Illinois. A guesstimate was maybe 17,000 in the stadium. Regardless, even the announced crowd on a seasonally nice, sweatshirt-weather evening was the smallest of the season and 5,453 below UT's average for its first four home games.

Why such a disparity? It's a weeknight. Adults have jobs and early wake-up calls. For kids, it's a school night. Tailgating isn't much fun when you arrive at 6 for a 7 o'clock kickoff and hope to be home by midnight.

As for UT students, a university spokesman said 2,850 used their IDs to pass through the student gate on Tuesday. He added that it was unofficial. It seemed like half that. But we're not being critical. On a Tuesday night, students are supposed to be in the library or in a late class or studying for an early class or catching up on their sleep.

This is not just a Toledo issue. In fact, UT's crowd was the largest of the MAC's four weeknight games last week. There were 17,490 at Ohio on Wednesday, 12,968 at Miami on Thursday, and 10,132 at Kent on Friday. Those were the announced numbers, not butts-in-seats.

It isn't going to get any prettier, especially with wet and chillier weather in the forecast.

No reason to fret, though. For better or for worse, you can watch 'em on TV.

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