Buckeyes, Meyer Embracing Prime Time Football

By Kyle Rowland on April 23, 2014 at 8:30a

It was announced Tuesday Ohio State would play an unprecedented third night game at Ohio Stadium during the 2014 season. It’s more than 100 years in the making.

In 1892, two small Pennsylvania schools played the first night game. But it was an event 47 years later that would have a lasting impact on college football that still reverberates today.  

Sept. 30, 1939 was a typical late summer day across much of the United States. In New York City, where a million things happen every minute, a college football game was played between Fordham and Waynesburg. What was different about this game than the thousands played before was it was televised.

NBC broadcast the game with one camera, as Bill Stern provided play-by-play and analysis. An estimated 1,000 TVs picked up the game. During a two-year period several firsts in sports broadcasting occurred, setting forth a path that dominates the current landscape.

There was a time when even premier programs only had one or two games televised throughout an entire season. Then it grew to a handful and eventually all 12. Even the New Mexico States, Bowling Greens and Florida Internationals of the sport can find games on the Internet if they aren’t already on TV.

“We’re recruiting all over the country,” former Ohio State head coach John Cooper said in the 1990s, “and it’s nice to be able to go in someone’s home and say, ‘You can turn on the TV and watch the Buckeyes six to eight times a year."

It’s an outdated statement all these years later. Attention has since turned to the number of night games the Buckeyes play. Ohio State’s first regular season game under the lights came in 1958 at USC. It would have two more regular-season night games and seven overall until 1985, when the Buckeyes and Pitt played in the first night game in Ohio Stadium history.  

Nearly 30 years later, the Horseshoe has hosted 14 night games. The last season Ohio Stadium didn’t feature a night game was 2007, and the last time Ohio State didn’t have a single regular season game played after 5 p.m. was 1996.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said three night games per season is the target, with at least two in Columbus. His primary concern is student-athlete welfare and being at a competitive disadvantage. Returning home at 3 a.m. presents several challenges.

“[We] always [want] more at home than away, but three at home is probably a good number, four works,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “We do not totally control away games. If my colleague at the away school wants to do it, I would have a hard time denying [them].”

There’s a possibility in the near future that half of Ohio State’s season could be played at night. The Big Ten already broke the November barrier with the announcement of two night games.

“As much respect as I have for the traditionalist, I want that 18-year-old to walk out of the stadium saying, ‘Wow, I have to be there,’” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said last year. “I don’t want them to have to get up at four in the morning to drive to our games, so I think we’re going to push a little bit for that.”

That statement was made during Meyer’s effort to have more night games and fewer noon starts. Recruiting was the impetus of Meyer’s campaign. And it worked, as Ohio State played three night games, including two at home.

“I love tradition, but I love recruiting better,” Meyer said. “Recruiting is really important in the game of college football. Like, really important. Like, more important than anything else.”

For six years in the SEC, Meyer saw how vital game-day atmospheres were to recruits. In Year 1 at Ohio State, he got another glimpse into the night game hoopla. Games against Nebraska and at Penn State stoked Meyer’s belief on the importance of playing in the evening.

“Our Nebraska atmosphere was as good as I’ve ever been around. There were other atmospheres that were just OK. But we don’t have time to be OK. Every time you have an OK, you’re not being great,” Meyer said. “The electric atmosphere we experienced at Penn State, I don’t want to use the term SEC-ish, but that was as good as there is.”

The proliferation of night games ties back to television, ratings and money. Higher rated games in primetime mean networks can charge more money for advertising. The increased revenue streams have contributed to lavish facilities.

Fans who once were hesitant because Saturday routines were interrupted have embraced the late starts and safety concerns have been alleviated.

The Ohio States, Alabamas and LSUs don’t shy away from night games because they provide a boost in recruiting. National exposure and unique atmospheres have been selling points to high schoolers for decades. It’s also led to the soaring popularity of college football.

Fifty million people attended a game last season. Upwards of 735,000 will witness Ohio State’s seven home games in 2014 and 315,000 will sit under Ohio Stadium’s new permanent lights.

The Buckeyes played in eight regular-season night games over a 16-year period from 1975-90. From 1991-99, they played in nine. Since 2000, that number has ballooned to 31, including 16 in the past five years alone.

“At some point,” Smith said, “we lose the novelty.”


Comments Show All Comments

BoFuquel's picture

And why is recruiting important? Because as it has always been good players make good coaches. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Kurt's picture

Interesting final quote from Smith.  Is it about the novelty?  I don't think so.

+1 HS
BroJim's picture

Why not? 

I season my simple food with hunger

SilverState's picture

“I love tradition, but I love recruiting better,” Meyer said. “Recruiting is really important in the game of college football. Like, really important. Like, more important than anything else.”


+1 HS
mh277907's picture

Damn, that is a sweet pic of the Shoe.


+7 HS
ChicagoBuckMD's picture

Yeah, hey Kyle is there a High-Res of that anywhere? I think I found my new wallpaper for the rest of my life

"Why be around average?" - UFM

+1 HS
Menexenus's picture

I agree, that is one fabulous photo.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

Seattle Linga's picture

Not too many college towns can pull that photo off - so proud of OSU 

okiebuck's picture

Well w/o the BTN I know I'll be at the local BW3's on September 27th. Go Bucks!!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

Blackbeards Delight's picture

$EC-ish atmosphere? If I'm not mistaken the three largest stadiums in the country are in the BIG. So those larger $EC stadiums are more BIG-ish as far as atmosphere is concerned. Unless by atmosphere coach means pig calling/squealing, gator bait/tiger bait chanting, flim flam bim bamming, and whatever other annoying a$$ twanging they all got. 

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


+7 HS
Bucksfan's picture

I'll echo that.  I'm sick of everyone, including our coaches, validating that the SEC is better in everything from the colors they wear, to the loudness of their 3-year olds sitting in the top row.  I seriously doubt that they had an "SEC atmosphere" when LSU took the field against Appalachian State around noon in 2008.   Or when Georgia Southern beat Florida last November.  Or when everyone left by halftime at the Arkansas vs. Alabama game, when Saban cried that his fans need to stay the whole time.

If you don't think Ohio Stadium or Happy Valley or Camp Randall are raucous places to sit and watch a football game, then shut the fuck up.  Know what I mean?

+9 HS
whobdis's picture

I think he's just comparing the atmosphere at various programs. The night game does seem to enhance this and they (SEC) up until recently had a lot more than we did. Given that he's experience both moreso than anyone on this board I'll take his word for it. Honestly I don't think he's talking about OSU as much as some other B1G programs. The night game at NW was nothing compared to what we've experienced in the past from Evanston.

+2 HS
Blackbeards Delight's picture

I'm not arguing that night games=better atmosphere because they clearly do. My point is that if you compare a night game at OSU, UM, PSU, UW, hell even UN, against a quality opponent, that these atmospheres are just as if not more electric than a comparable one in the $EC. Yes there are more night games in that conference, so more opportunities for that buzz. But a Buckeyes to Buckeyes comparison, I'm not buying that sheet. 

Besides most $EC fans are more interested in keeping their fluffy parted hair in place, their wedding/prom dress or button down with tie and khakis clean and wrinkle free. 

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


+1 HS
Menexenus's picture

I think you meant to write "Crootin'!!!"

You're welcome.


Real fans stay for Carmen.

alust2013's picture

I don't mind night games, but sometimes people get obnoxious when they have an extra 3-4 hours to tailgate. I prefer 3:30 games, but then again, I never liked sitting in the student section.

...and Michigan still sucks.

Ugly Hour Chazz Bear's picture

As long as people are loud, then I'm all for it.  Why are you sitting in the student section?  Are you still a student?

I like the bux.

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

Mr. Smith,  " novelty?" Think of it this way, Mr. Smith, another Buckeye program championship and another bonus for you. Now, get outta Urban's way of progress. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
Jabba the Hoke's picture

Can we just go ahead and schedule the *ichigan game at 7 or 8 already. For those bitching about tradition, The Game used to be played on the third Saturday in November, now it's after Thanksgiving. No one seemed to care.

+1 HS
acBuckeye's picture

It's not so much tradition for the nooner start to The Game for me. I'd just have a hard time waiting an extra 8 hours to watch our boys curb-stomp TTUN. The anticipation is already tough to deal with.

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Somewhere Lloyd Carr is beating his dog because of this...do you remeber how much he would piss and moan when any game was not at noon? He hated games that deviated from his noon-centric schedule. Not just THE game, but any game...but especially THE game.
I sorta miss the old codger, but then again, scUM was has been TURRIBLE since his departure and were on the way down at then end of his tenure so thats been pure humor in my book.

+1 HS
Urban Ohio's picture

Apparently Gene doesn't care if the basketball players get back home late.

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.

+3 HS
Osurrt's picture

The Meyer effect......and don't think that prime time games catch the eyes of the recruits

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

I was thinking the exact same thing - what a showcase to present the product.

PoKeY21's picture

I can't figure out why Gene is so worried that the players won't be in until 3am? I mean its Saturday night not like they have class the next day. I wiuld be more worried about the players being out an about on a Saturday night, on High, during football season. Def more chance of trouble there than on a plane home.

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

M Man's picture

I'm curious; are there any among the 11W crowd who dislike night games?

Because I mostly hate them for our home games.  Is it generational?  Probably.  But if Michigan's Athletic Department asked all of the people who really pay the freight (Alumni Association members, Victors Club members who pay for PSD's, etc) and local businesses, my guess is that the vote would tilt strongly towards "No night games; at least keep them to a bare minimum."  My preference would be for a night game in Michigan Stadium once every four years or so.

I don't care about tv; I am in the Stadium.  If other teams (OSU especially) want to have night games, that's fine by me.  Gives me something to watch when I get home (hopefully at a decent time) from a gorgeous sunny fall afternoon in Ann Arbor.  If Michigan plays road games at night, that's also fine by me.  I can play golf that day and watch the game at night.

But I've done the night-game thing with our Notre Dame matchups, and while they have been some of the most thrilling games in a national season of college football, a steady diet of them would cause me to give up my season tickets.

Do Buckeye fans in Dayton, Findlay, Elyria, Canton and Bucyrus really like getting home from an OSU home game at 3:00 am Sunday morning?

It is a little startling, to look at some numbers.  (With the exception of Michigan's virtual ban on in-stadium advertising, OSU's budget numbers probably look a lot like ours, I expect.)  After revenue from ticket sales, it is the loyal donors who are the backbone of program funding.  (And just think how many of the donors also figure in the ticket revenue column as well.)  Far more than the conference-shared television revenue.  Much, much more than apparel licensing, which always seems to garner lots of attention but which counts for very little.  Have a look:


Chief B1G Dump's picture

You sound like Lloyd Carr but what are you saying here? That a heavy dose of night games would drive down ticket sales and also donations? It appears that almost every athletic department in the country disagrees...I dont think UM installed permanent lights just to play ND once every 4yrs at night (yes Im aware that series is about to be suspended). Winning and national exposure drive up ticket sales and donations. Night games help both.
I would also think local businesses like them as well because people linger around all day eating and drinking...as opposed to partying 4hrs in the morning, go to the noon game, then go home and/or the hell away from campus.

SilverState's picture

Such good "marketing." 

+1 HS
osubuckeye4life's picture

This will give me a better opportunity to finally catch a night game!