A couple of days ago, Chik-Fil-A Bowl CEO and NC State alumni (’78) Gary Stokan commented that he was disappointed in NC State not selling out their allotment of 25,000 tickets for the Chik-Fil-A kick-off game on August 31st. On the surface, my response was that this was just a CEO trying to troll a fanbase for more ticket sales. I listened to the various radio shows, web communities, and blogs give their responses and/or excuses to Stokan’s criticisms, but none of it sat right with me. I mean, to be honest, NC State is a program that in the last 6 years has had only two winning seasons and plays under a current coach with an overall Wolfpack record of 33-30. In my humble opinion, this is a team that when it gets the chance to play on national TV (regardless of the flavor) as one of only two football games going on during that time slot, we should be thrilled.
When I saw that one of the more common excuses was “they are to blame for poor ticket sales because of putting NC State on ESPNU on a Friday night“, I was a little taken back. First of all, does NC State really have a leg to stand on demanding a better spot during kick-off weekend compared to the other programs playing that weekend? Second of all, is Friday really that bad of a time slot? Maybe it’s time for a reality check.
DID SCHEDULING HURT OR HELP NC STATE?
If someone is going to make a strong case that NC State is being disrespected by relegating us to play at 7:30PM on a Friday night, you’re going to have to make the case that other, less desirable match-ups have somehow been given better time slots. Let’s take a look at the nationally televised schedule…
First impression: at the time that NC State plays, the only other nationally televised game going on is Boise St and Michigan St. Untelevised nationally is Villanova @ Temple and Wagner @ Florida Atlantic. That means that anyone wanting to watching college football, even if just between commercial breaks, will be flipping between these two games. If O’Brien makes it a good game, maybe he can keep some of those viewers on channel 600-whatever to see what this Wolfpack team can do. Regardless, if visibility is your objective, it’s not a bad slot by any stretch, especially considering that games kicking off around the same time Saturday will be only 1 of 9 different games televised on national TV, ESPN3, and local television stations.
COMPARING NC STATE – TENN TO OTHER MATCH-UPS
Moving on with our comparison to other match-ups, you can look at things three different ways:
(1) which teams win,
(2) which teams just got done winning (during the last bowl season), and
(3) whose ranked.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say you can judge the “winning-ness” of a team by averaging their 2011 records together (afterall, the casual sports fan doesn’t have much of a memory past one season). Second, let’s say you can award “points” to teams if they went to a bowl, and maybe two points if they went to a BCS bowl (add up the points for both teams to get a bowl “score”). For now, let’s just see what each match-up looks like when you compare these two values.
Judging by winning percentages, the NC State – Tennessee game ranks 14 out of the 19 nationally televised games during kick-off weekend (ESPN3 games were not considered on this list). This ranking seems to line up well with the “bowl score” that gives 1 point to teams who went to a bowl last season and 2 points to teams that went to BCS bowls.
The third factor for comparison, national ranking, helps explain why teams with lower “bowl scores” may still be better rated games than NC State. South Carolina is ranked 9th (AP) going into the 2012 season and BYU is ranked 25th (USA Today). NC State didn’t receive any votes for either poll for the upcoming season.
DO NC STATE FANS HAVE A VALID BEEF WITH FRIDAY NIGHT ON ESPNU?
When you consider the teams that are higher on the list than NC State… no, we don’t. Three games that you could consider “worse than NC State vs Tennessee” made it on better TV stations and on Saturday (Bowling Green vs Florida, Northwestern vs Syracuse, and Miami vs Boston College). All three of those games occur between noon and 6:30 on Saturday and must share TV slots with games on all of the ESPN stations as well as games on the Big 10 network and other local sports channels. While those slots may be more convenient for tailgating, they produce much less opportunity for those programs in terms of visibility and exposure of their product. These three teams may have what some see as “better” scheduling when you look at the carrier they are on and the day they play on, but by the time the viewship is split between all of the competing programs, are those teams actually better off or not?
You also have to look at who have a great match-up, but are in less-than-desirable slots (in other words, programs who really are in shit situations). A 10:30PM EST (7:30PM PT) kick-off might be convenient for Oregon fans, but for the Arkansas St fans, that puts them 2220 miles from home (a 2 day drive or several hundred dollar plane ride).
There are also a few good Thursday games. The South Carolina vs Vandy game and the BYU vs Washington St games are both ESPN on Thursday. Degenerated to ESPNU on Thursday is Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, a match-up featuring two teams that had winning seasons last year and went to bowl games. These are all “good games”, but do you think their fanbase is going to fail to show up just because it’s on a Thursday or whine and moan because they are on ESPNU?
IF YOU WANT TO TALK LIKE YOU’RE “BIG TIME FOOTBALL”, THEN ACT LIKE IT
When you get down to it, NC State and Tennessee simply isn’t a great match-up for the rest of the nation. In a vacuum, NC State fans may have a valid beef against Stokan or the four-letter-networks, but NC State isn’t playing in a vacuum; NC State is playing beside 19 other programs that are jockeying for television time. When you actually look at the timeslot that NC State got, having to only compete with one other nationally televised game and two other [potentially] locally televised games, it’s an amazing opportunity for the Wolfpack to establish themselves as a high-visibility program that can mix it up with traditionally successful programs like Tennessee. There isn’t much that NC State fans have to legitimately gripe about when it comes to the timeslot, especially considering that [bluntly] NC State vs Tennessee isn’t THAT good of a match-up, relatively speaking.
So now that we’ve settled the scheduling bit, a popular excuse to throw at Stokan’s challenge to sell more tickets, let’s actually address the mentality of “excuses first” when our fanbase is criticized. If you are an NC State fan knowing your team has an exciting opponent on a fairly prime spot in the national TV line-up, you have to ask yourself this after hearing Stokan’s “criticism”: Are you going to rise to the challenge or bitch and moan because someone dared to question your magnificent program? Joe Ovies is an ass, but he’s also got a point on this one subject. If you are a big-time football program, you don’t have problems selling tickets. If you do have problems selling tickets and are called out on it, you step up and by some fucking tickets, not get online and post sniveling responses to a bowl CEO that couldn’t care less about your opinions on the matter.
At the end of the day, it’s about money. NC State is already a leg-up on that race considering that it beat out 14 other teams for a TV slot with low competition from other games on a four-letter channel. At this point NC State fans have to ask if they are more interested in complaining that someone insulted them, or rallying together and showing support for their team.
Gary Stokan said it best himself…
I’m calling out the Wolfpackers right now. If we’re talking about ‘Wolfpack Unlimited,’ let’s show our unlimited support to Tom O’Brien and NC State in the first game, because if NC State wins that first game, they could be in for a special season. (link)
If you ask me, that sounds like someone that wants to see us win both on the field and in the stands. Instead of making excuses, let’s answer the challenge.