Is Virginia Tech Football No Longer The Apple Of ESPN's Eye?

Why won't ESPN commit to VT and Ohio State for September 6th? NASCAR, but we probably'd still be stuck on ESPN behind a lesser match-up anyway.

Saturday night's all right for fightin'. I just wish we got to fight on ABC instead of ESPN.

With all due respect to the hallowed Thursday night "Hokie time-slot" we made famous in the late 90s/early 00s, nothing gets most Hokie football fans more hype than a Saturday night game underneath the lights, whether it be at home in the woodshed (although I always thought it was behind the woodshed where you wanted to avoid) we call Lane, or on the road in a hostile environment.

The benefits of Saturday night games are multiple fold:

  • You can sleep in and recover from Friday night.
  • If you're traveling to the game, you still have time to get into town and set-up for your favorite pre-game activities
  • When the game ends, well it's too late to drive back from whence you came, so may as well partake in the local nightlife, or have some extended visiting with friends you might not have seen for a minute.
  • The next day on the drive home: Cracker Barrel! (or whatever your ritual)

I am sure there are multitudes of other good reasons you can toss my way, but I was taking a high level look at things there. Let me know of your rituals in the comments, it's fascinating stuff. Moving on.....

The Headline Is A Little Misleading, Yes

It's hard to say we're not the apple of ESPN's eye when they continue to extend and increase the value of their contract with the ACC every other year, and Tech benefits greatly from this arrangement. We also are still a prime target of theirs (when James Weaver doesn't decide he knows what's best for us) to take a Thursday night game or two. With Beamer's patented seven-day schedule (hey, whatever works), VT is always pretty well-prepared for those weeknight prime-time showdowns. So ESPN finds value in VT as one of the top-tier ACC programs, it's just that I'm still feeling a little left out, and here's why:

Since ABC branded Saturday Night Football and adopted it as part of their weekly prime-time schedule, the Hokies have only been part of three ABC national telecasts, and two of them were split-national. The only full nation broadcast was the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in 2009 vs Alabama.

Here's VT's history in Saturday Night ABC games:

2006: VT 17 Miami 10 (split-broadast with not just one but TWO other games, VT got 38% of households)

2008: VT 35 Nebraska 30 (split-broadcast with Illinois-Penn St (what an insult!), and VT got just 30% of households!)

2009: Alabama 34  VT  24  (of course we lose the one EVERYONE sees)

Notably absent from this list are 2007 LSU, which was bumped for a NASCAR race, and 2013 Alabama which was on ESPN. And they are notable for being non-conference "P5" games that would have been prime candidates. And again, ESPN commissioned VT to play in the GT and Boise St Labor Day games, but again, nothing on ABC.

What About The Rest Of The ACC?

There have been numerous opportunities to put ACC games on in the 8pm time slot (and not even counting these last two rebuilding years) and they have time and again chosen other ACC schools to inexplicably promote as marquee matchups. Here are some of those games:

2006: Notre Dame/Georgia Tech (full national, yech), Wake Forest/FSU (Wake won 30-0, yes you read this right), VT/Miami

Not a lot of  love for the ACC in a down year. This was the year of the GT/Wake Forest ACC title game that John Swofford and his crew were banking on with the 2004 expansion.

2007: FSU/BC (62%), BC/Maryland(19% LOL, and NO HD! Unheard of!)

ABC loved them some Matty Ice (Matt Ryan, eventual #2 pick in the NFL draft) that season. Til he got Glennoned in the ACC Title game.

2008: Alabama/Clemson (74%), VT/Nebraska, BC/FSU (80%)

2009: VT/Bama, Oklahoma/Miami (80%), Georgia/GT (26%)

2010: LSU/UNC (Atlanta), Notre Dame/BC, FSU/Miami (79%), Clemson/FSU (20%), FSU/MD (28%)

2011: Oklahoma/FSU, Clemson/GT (50%), Notre Dame/Wake (50%)

2012: Clemson/FSU, FSU/Miami (50%), Notre Dame/BC

2013: Georgia/Clemson, FSU/Clemson, FSU/Miami, Notre Dame/Pittsburgh, Duke/FSU (ACC Title Game, notable because every prior ACC title game since 2006 has been on ESPN prime-time or on during the day. The last ACC prime-time title game on ABC? The 2005 affair where VT lost to FSU in Jacksonville.)

So What Can We Discern From This?

That ABC still believes that Notre Dame has value-add over other much better match-ups. And that just in case they were worried that the Catholic community wasn't getting enough love that BC games would suffice? Patently ridiculous to the true college football fan who just wants the best game of the day on at the best possible time. Equally ridiculous is the number of times Wake and Maryland have been put in position to nationally embarrass themselves and the ACC.

Here are the number of appearances by each ACC school:

Florida St:   7

Clemson, BC: 4

VT, Miami, GT:  3

Wake, MD: 2 .....Pitt has also made 2, but as a member of the Big East

UNC, Duke: 1

UVA, NC St are the only members of the 12 member ACC that haven't made it. Louisville and Syracuse would be added to this group starting this year now that membership has re-distributed.

The realities that VT owns the Metro DC market place along with Richmond/Roanoke and other assorted ACC markets with a rooting interest has apparently not taken hold in the marketing division at ABC. They must think that only the 100,000 in Blacksburg and the greater New River Valley area are paying attention.

Understandably, with a later start time this affords ABC the opportunity to position their teams in the Pac-12 and Big-12 so that they can override those east-coast bias that are built-in due to the time zone differences; and this is reflected in the "standings" with USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon all featured prominently along with *yawn* Notre Dame (whose road games ABC will snatch up, as all ND's home games are shown on NBC for way too much money). But the VT fan base should express a little bit of bitterness over the fact that when the Hokies dominated the league for the first several years post-expansion that they couldn't capitalize on that success and use that platform to extend the reach of our brand.

Now that FSU is back in the catbird seat that means that any of their contests is fair game for a national broadcast, and even if Miami and Clemson stink that those games are still desirable for the rivalry function alone. With ABC likely to only show three-four ACC matchups per season (even split broadcast) this leaves little room for VT to join the fray, or so you'd think.

So Why Isn't The Ohio State Game Scheduled For ABC?

Just like the LSU game in 2007, NASCAR. The Last Race for the Chase is a prime-time event that is always scheduled for the 2nd week of September.

So instead of a marquee college football matchup, we're going to have to face realities that driving fast and turning to the left is more profitable to ABC. ABC reaches about 20 million more homes than ESPN at this point, so the difference is not so drastic, but let's be honest: Playing on national network TV is still held in higher-esteem than playing on ESPN in the same time slot, and I wish we could earn more of those slots.

But even if a bomb were to hit Richmond (where the NASCAR race is held), I noticed that even though most of the first three week's college football TV schedule has been released, the USC/Stanford game doesn't have a set time yet.

Probably just ABC holding something back in reserve in the event of a catastrophic event in Richmond like rain on the track. Glad you tuned in folks! Let's listen to a Waltrip brother talk about how rain on the track is bad mmmkay?

What About ESPN College GameDay?

It used to be, when we were still in the nascent stages of our love affair with ESPN that we commanded GameDay appearances with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Ken Doll. They loved us and we loved them back. And even without an appearance hosting it since 2007 (ECU opener), the Hokies are still in a comfortable 3rd place slot as far as the ACC is concerned.

In case you were wondering, rankings by number of appearances:

ACC

FSU 9, Miami 6, VT 5, Clemson 3, BC/GT 2, UNC/NC ST 1 ....Pitt had 2 as member of Big East, including vs VT in 2003 (a game we'd like to forget)

Nationally

Ohio St  (Horseshoe) 13,  Florida (SWAMP) 12, Michigan (Big House) 11, USC 10, Auburn/LSU/FSU 9

VT's Appearances

Since the series began in 1993, VT has hosted 5 times, and been hosted three times, once in a neutral location.

1999

VT 62, Syracuse 0

VT 43, Miami 10

Still the gold standard for a GameDay debut, and probably the gold standard for a gold standard follow-up

2000

VT 0, GT 0  There was so much excitement around the program lightning struck. When it struck his rental car and canceled the game, Corso declared: "I don't know what a Hokie is, but God is one of them!"

Miami 41, VT 21 (in Miami)

Don't bring a knife to a gun fight. We were playing with an injured Mike Vick. Not the only time we lost a high-leverage game to Miami with a top-five ranking in our pocket but not nearly as bad as 2005.

2003

Pittsburgh 34, VT 27  (in Pittsburgh)

Two NFL first round selections had a duel for the ages in Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald and the VT's Kevin Jones.

2005

VT 51, GT 7 (game was originally supposed to be at LSU, but a little thing called Katrina messed that up...and then lots of laughs at GT QB Reggie Ball's expense)

Miami 27, VT 7 (the worst game in my association with VT athletics, D-Day for the program. It hasn't been quite the same since, this was a tipping point. Corso put the Ibis head on, predicted the upset, and he's been riding that vindictive arrogance towards our program ever since. God's still a Hokie you SOB)

2007

VT 17, ECU 7

LSU  48, VT 7 (in Baton Rouge)

2009

Alabama 34, VT 24  (in Atlanta)


Even in Tyrod Taylor's final season we didn't host the show, and since then it's been nothing but crickets, which is understandable as the team hasn't had anything marketable beyond the Logan Thomas experiment since 2011. I'm not asking for anything that isn't merited. But we had very good years (and Frank'll tell ya) where we won 10+ games for eight years in a row. We should have hosted a GameDay every year.

Going forward as the TV schedule gets diluted further and further, it's going to be difficult to expect things to improve. And the networks are always going to pursue the lowest hanging fruit first. Who cares if a matchup is even, or intellectually intriguing? Notre Dame'll do. Another GameDay in the SEC will be a winner for sure.

They'll cling to the properties they know are historically ratings winners. And sadly, the plucky up-and-comers like the Hokies of 1999 will be forgotten as exceptions to the rule, and the success of those early games will be explained away as VT just having a generational talent in Vick that was able to transcend the pull of traditional powerhouses and captivate a country. Once again, the narrative will be about everything it shouldn't when scheduling justifications are made. That's all well and good, I expect those flimsy retorts, just don't expect me to accept them.

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