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February 16, 2009

Spurrier making USC a Thursday Night staple

The following is an entry from Scott Hood's blog. Since February of 2005, Scott has been a full-time beat writer for GamecockCentral, covering the South Carolina football, men's basketball and baseball programs. To read all of the Scott's blog entries, click here.


I know some South Carolina fans have soured on Steve Spurrier as head football coach.

But there's one group of highly paid paper pushers out there in the wilderness that rejoice every day the HBC is still involved deeply in college football: top executives at ESPN.

Love him or hate him, Spurrier is a lightning road within his industry. Several years ago, someone took a poll to determine the Top 10 most popular and most hated college football coaches.

Only one coach made both lists - Spurrier.

Believe me, it's not a coincidence that USC will make two appearances this upcoming season on ESPN's Thursday night football telecasts for the third time in the last four years.

USC will open the college football season for the third time in five seasons when they square off with improved N.C. State Sept. 3 in Raleigh. Then comes the just announced Thursday night matchup with Ole Miss on Sept. 24.

That's two appearances on ESPN within a span of three weeks. The TV industry is all about capturing an audience, and Spurrier is one of the best hopes for a cable network when it comes to that. Simply, people will watch when he's on. It doesn't matter whether they're rooting for or against him.

All that matters is they will watch.

Spurrier, of course, loves it because of the publicity and notoriety the program receives from recruits and the media by playing on Thursday night when everyone is watching. There's something about exclusivity that makes coaches smile.

AD Eric Hyman likes Thursday night games because they contribute significantly to the bottom line. Two years ago, USC received the largest payout among the 12 SEC schools largely as a result of playing twice on Thursday night during the 2006 season.

Cha-ching.

The same thing will likely happen this coming June when the conference has its annual meetings since the Gamecocks opened the 2008 season with a pair of Thursday night games.

So, USC is getting a ton of publicity and a ton of cash by agreeing to play every season on Thursday night.

Top recruits want to play at schools that appear regularly on TV, Thursday included. Eighteen year old boys have grown up in a world of the 500-channel cable and satellite universe. It's what they know.

Years ago, when ESPN started the Thursday night concept, it was initially thought by many that night was solely for leagues and team desperate for attention on a national scale.

But as the years have gone by, BCS schools now recognize the benefits of playing on Thursday night. Last year, Pete Carroll and Southern Cal agreed to play a road game at Oregon State on a Thursday night.

Florida State and Miami have popped up a few times recently, as well. The trend now is that teams from BCS conferences are the ones now playing on Thursday nights.

In short, the stigma of playing on Thursday night has all but dissipated from the landscape. An appearance that night on ESPN is now seen as something to celebrate, rather than being viewed as a major inconvenience for teams and fans.

Hey, in this TV saturated era, it's not about the fans in the stands, anyways. Eric Hyman might care about the ticket-paying patrons, but do you think ESPN really does? They want to broadcast their Thursday night games from packed stadiums where the fans are going nuts. It's the environment they care about, not the fact the thousands of fans probably had to leave work or school early and fight gridlock to get to the stadium.

Pushed aside, teams from these so-called minor conferences are now playing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so ESPN wins all around. They get to show college football four and five nights per week.

Be assured that as long as Spurrier remains the head coach of South Carolina (and I expect him to remain at USC through at least the 2011 season), the Gamecocks will remain one of ESPN's favorite teams for their Thursday night telecasts and will continue to pop up at least once or twice per year in that slot.

That means if you disdain Thursday night games, you'll have to find a way to deal with it.

- Click here to read more of Scott's blog entries
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