ESPN has long partnered with the ACC to broadcast Thursday night games. Beginning with a contract extension that began with the 2013 season, the network and league expanded into Friday nights to secure a broadcast slot that is practically unopposed by other college football games. On Friday night, for instance, there will be only three FBS games – Tech-Louisville at 7 p.m., Middle Tennessee-Marshall at 7:30 p.m. and Utah State-BYU at 9 p.m.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Tech players, whose team has seemingly been trapped in Saturday noon-hour games, have been excited to relive the magic of Friday night lights.
“I don’t know how you can’t be excited knowing that it’s a 7 o’clock (kickoff), and I’m pretty sure no one else is playing on Friday night, so literally everyone will be watching,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said.
As Johnson noted, high-school football, which draws tens of thousands every Friday night in Georgia and across the region, would pay a cost of some degree if Tech were to play at home on a Friday night. The pain of the blowback that Johnson anticipates would be lessened by the millions that ESPN doles out to the league. In 2016-17, each ACC school received an average of $26.6 million. The number will go up when the ACC Network launches in August 2019.
“The way TV controls everything, it’s in the contract,” Johnson said.
Under the ACC’s current agreement with ESPN, the league is contracted to have five Thursday and five Friday games. Syracuse and Boston College have been frequent hosts for Friday games, but seven ACC schools in the Southeast, where high-school football would seem to hold more sway, have all taken turns hosting home games on Friday – Louisville, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina, although UNC’s lone Friday home game was on the day after Thanksgiving.
When Duke played Miami at home last season, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe apologized to high-school players, coaches and their families for the encroachment on their turf.
“I am a firm believer that Friday nights belong to high-school football,” he said then. “I would prefer that no college teams played on Friday, but I can’t live in la-la land. We all know that programming and television is going to ask for more and more.”
When the ACC Network launches next year, it would not be a surprise if ESPN (which owns the network) were to request more Friday-night games, increasing the likelihood that Tech eventually will get tabbed for a Friday-night home game.
If it were to happen, it would be Tech’s first Friday-night home game in a non-Thanksgiving week since 1958.
Should ESPN request that Tech submit to a Friday-night game at Grant Field roughly once every 60 years, the school would likely accept those conditions.