Like many of you, I’m looking forward to our football game against the University of North Carolina. Seeing the teams face off on the gridiron two years ago was exciting and definitely created a buzz in both states. There will be an announcement forthcoming that the scheduled game between the two Carolinas, originally set for Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia in 2010, will be moved to 2013. With that, many are wondering why the athletics department allowed the Tar Heels to reschedule and how it helps the Gamecocks.
Because South Carolina is a partner of ESPN and Chick-fil-A through the Southeastern Conference, the network approached Athletics Director Eric Hyman about moving the UNC game in order to allow ESPN to schedule UNC against LSU in next year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Hyman was adamant that our game would not be moved unless it was a “win-win” situation for the Gamecocks. For him, it was a decision that had to make sense for the program because he wants to see this UNC game happen just as much as any South Carolina fan.
So what makes it a win-win? First, Hyman and Coach Spurrier wanted next year’s new game and the game against North Carolina in 2013 to both be the opening Thursday night games on ESPN. Coach Spurrier believes the opportunity for national exposure on Thursday night to kick off the college football season is a huge benefit for recruiting and the program. In the first five years of the Spurrier Era, the Gamecocks have played in the season’s opening game four times. I’m sure that some of the strength of our recent recruiting classes can be attributed to the national exposure our program has received. In addition, as part of the ESPN TV package, the SEC will compensate every league team that plays at home on a Thursday night $200,000 per game. That’s an extra $400,000 generated from the two games for Gamecock Athletics.
Secondly, ESPN had to find another opponent for the 2010 season. Third, they had to help move the Gamecocks’ 2010 bye week to the middle of the season instead of the week before the annual Clemson game. Our last win against Clemson came when the team played the weekend before and not had two weeks off before facing the Tigers. Moving the bye week also gives our players a vital week of rest in the middle of the always-challenging SEC schedule.
The result? The Gamecocks will host the Tar Heels in 2013 at Williams-Brice Stadium on the opening Thursday night on ESPN. The Gamecocks will host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Thursday, September 2, to kick off the 2010 season on ESPN. South Carolina will not have to return the game in Hattiesburg and ESPN will pay $50,000 of the $900,000 guarantee to Southern Miss.
The network also worked with Troy to move its game in Columbia in 2010 from September 4 to November 20, the week before the Clemson game. In addition, Carolina has moved its game against Furman from October 2 to September 18, leaving the Gamecocks with their open week in the middle of the season (October 2). If that’s not the definition of a win-win, then I don’t know what is.
And for those of you who think the Tar Heels will never appear in Columbia, UNC committed to a larger buyout should they pull out of that contest. Let’s give the Heels the benefit of the doubt on this one – otherwise, why would they agree to an increased buyout?
How else can this help South Carolina? The willingness to be flexible with two major partners (ESPN and Chick-fil-A) could provide additional benefits to the program in the future. If it’s a toss-up as to what game to provide more coverage to or whom to put on primetime television, ESPN might look at the Gamecocks more favorably. Putting the Gamecocks in either the Chick-fil-A Bowl or asking South Carolina to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game might be a more attractive option for Chick-fil-A because of this willingness to accommodate.
Some of you might wonder why we aren’t the team playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Hyman has discussed the possibility about the Gamecocks playing in Atlanta sometime in the future, but he is reluctant to do so because he understands the vital economic impact of a home game for Columbia and the surrounding areas and wants to maintain a seven home game schedule. If an opportunity arises for an eighth home game and it made economic sense, he would certainly consider all of the options.
You can be assured that when this decision was made, it was done with the best interests of the university, athletics program and the fans in mind. Don’t worry fans – the Heels are still coming to Columbia.