March 6, 2013 7:24:19 PM
STARKVILLE - The Mississippi State football program will be back on the national stage in the 2013 season as the Bulldogs have agreed to host Kentucky as part of ESPN's Thursday primetime package on October 24 at 6:30 p.m.
This announcement made by the Southeastern Conference and ESPN public relations was made Tuesday and immediately the discussion among the fans began. Initially it seems the response should be 100 percent celebration and approval. However, this is one of those sensitive issues which the MSU athletics department has to carefully negotiate through given the many variables involved in a decision of this magnitude.
First of all, a little background on the topic. Since 2003, Mississippi State has played the second-most games on Thursday night among SEC schools. Here's the list:
South Carolina - 12
Vanderbilt - 5
Mississippi State - 5
Kentucky - 4
Mississippi - 3
Auburn - 3
LSU - 2
Alabama - 1
Arkansas - 1,
Texas A&M - 1
Given these numbers I reached out to a colleague of mine who cover the Gamecocks in David Cloninger of GamecockCentral.com, the Rivals.com site for the University of South Carolina, to get some insight on the popularity of Thursday night games in Columbia.
"From a football perspective, (South Carolina coach Steve) Spurrier loves it for the season opener, because not only does he think it's cool for the first game of the season to include South Carolina but he really likes the extra preparation for the second game on the schedule," Cloninger said. "From the fans perspective, the players love playing on Thursday nights because the student body loves the atmosphere and the administration loves the exposure. The only complaint really is the ticket holders that know they have to get up the next morning and go to work."
South Carolina opens up the college football season again this season on Thursday night against North Carolina on Aug. 29 at 6 p.m.
MSU's willingness to be one of the first SEC programs to embrace the ESPN Thursday night platform for the league's schedule makers, including former Director of Athletics Larry Templeton - now the consultant to scheduling matters with the SEC, has not gone unnoticed.
The argument could be made MSU has been forced to carry the burden on the Thursday night requirement will other SEC schools have been less interested in participating in putting a single game of their 13-game season in the middle of the week. This burden includes playing nationally-ranked Aubun and LSU two years ago in a matter of five days in September resulting in back-to-back losses for the MSU program.
"I think it's safe to say certain schools in the league initially had no desire to play on Thursday and immediately other schools in the league, like Mississippi State understood the value of the exposure
element," Templeton said. "Because of that, I believe more schools in the league would be more willing for the opportunity."
It's interesting the SEC has possibly rewarded MSU with a ESPN Thursday night game after its bye week and then giving the Bulldogs adequate time to recuperate and prepare for a road test at South Carolina on Nov. 2.
"We adjust to (the schedule) and we'll always play a Thursday night game because I think it's really neat being in the game of football having everybody in the profession watching your game." Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said.
The benefit for fans traveling to the game in the Thursday night scenario is with students on fall break during that time (Oct. 24 and 25), the parking situation will certainly be less chaotic than in the past. It also encourages students to stick around and not leave campus until Friday morning for home during the break.
"We appreciate the university administration assisting us with this national television appearance," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in the school release. "The university has already scheduled the campus fall break for Thursday and Friday of that week, ensuring this opportunity does not interrupt classes and the academic mission of the university."
The last part of that quote is a huge point because it shows Stricklin is working with the academic side of the university to not jeopardize the integrity what the school is supposed to represent entirely. Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones has been public in his view that the Rebels will not disrupt classes during the week for a nationally-televised football game and is why their season opener on Aug. 29 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN at Vanderbilt works perfectly for their situation. Stricklin was able to negotiate with the academic side of the institution and specifically MSU President Mark Keenum to have fall break during that October weekend and therefore, provide the school with the opportunity to get the Kentucky game on a national platform. The logical thought is this home matchup versus Kentucky would not be on such a high profile television partner if not for the ESPN Thursday night option.
The negative aspect for season ticket holders is a matter of travel distance goes as such: I live two or three hours away from Starkville and can't make a weekend out of this football game so I obviously can't attend. This is a concern that just can't be talked down and is a major problem but the other side of the argument is the SEC could've possibly made this game an 11 a.m. kickoff on the SEC Network, which always results in the worst actual attendance among season ticket holders and students at Davis Wade Stadium. However, the farther distance you take this out, the more of a benefit the national television audience could be for MSU fans. Think about it this way, Stricklin does the #MaroonFriday retweets from not only all over the nation but all over the world. So this ESPN platform is sometimes the only television avenue where out of market fans can watch Mississippi State play a football game. I know ESPN3.com is available for out of market fans but of course that package doesn't include a sign-up option for EVERY cable package as those of us who have Metrocast cable (including me) are well aware of right now.
"The ESPN Thursday night package is yet another opportunity for us to show off Mississippi State to a large audience," Mullen said. "With us having an off week prior to the Kentucky game, it was a move that made a lot of sense."
Finally, I asked for your comments on Twitter today and in the top left corner you'll see all of them in slide show picture form. Most of the positive came from students and fans excited about the nationally televised platform. Most of the negative came from fans who would be unable to attend. Take a look and see where you fall on this spectrum.
2013 MISSISSIPPI STATE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 31 - vs. Oklahoma State (Reliant Stadium, Houston)
Sept. 7 - Alcorn State
Sept. 14 - at Auburn
Sept. 21- Troy
Oct. 5 - LSU
Oct. 12 - Bowling Green
Oct. 24 - Kentucky
Nov. 2 - at South Carolina
Nov. 9 - at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 - Alabama
Nov. 23 - at Arkansas (Little Rock, Ark.)
Nov. 30 - Ole Miss
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.