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Published: Wednesday, 11/7/2012

Time to nix weeknight MAC games

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE STAFF WRITER

I am a college football fan and I approve this message:

It wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday, but it should have been. Maybe we can rustle up some petitions and arrange a referendum for our next trip to the voting machines.

The language will be simple. No more Tuesday night football. At 8 o’clock. In November. In Toledo. Ever. Again.

It was about 40 degrees warmer in your family room than it was outdoors at kickoff at the University of Toledo. So, if that’s where you elected, pardon the expression, to watch your nationally ranked UT Rockets I don’t blame you.

You were not alone. Attendance was announced at 18,211 but pay no attention. That was wishful thinking.

This isn’t the first time I’ve campaigned to erase late-season weeknight games from the landscape, even if I see both sides and recognize that I’m doing little more than beating my head against one of those ancient brick walls at the Glass Bowl.

It is done by television, for television, and I hope there is a significant exchange of U.S. currency between the ESPN Family of Networks and the MAC Family of Schools, although I doubt it.

On the flip side, such national exposure has played no small role in the MAC spreading its message and an improved product to fans, recruits, alumni, and poll voters from coast to coast. Without it, who knows if UT makes it to No. 23 in the AP poll?

For college football nuts, Ball State at Toledo on Tuesday was the only game in a very large town — all the states, red ones and blue ones alike.

Today, Bowling Green at Ohio takes the same center stage.

The MAC will tell you this is a good thing. I understand their point. If the Rockets had played this game on Saturday afternoon with a bright sun beating down, a sellout crowd, should one show up, would be 26,000, give or take. The TV audience on Tuesday? In the millions, for sure.

I get it. I just don’t like it. Neither, I imagine, did the fans that shivered their way through Ball State’s 34-27 victory, or the families that couldn’t come on a school night, or the guy working the late trick at Jeep.

But here’s what bothers me more than anything. There was some guy sitting in his recliner in Little Rock who heard UT had a top-25 team, flipped on his TV, saw large swaths of empty seats on the screen, and figures we’re a lousy sports town. And after halftime, when a lady in Golden, Colo., put her feet up with a Coors Light and her knitting, those swaths had turned into entire sections.

This is not a lousy sports town. It is a lousy time to play a college football game.

It was nonetheless entertaining. Gracious, the teams combined for 577 yards of offense in the first half alone.

I hope the audience paid attention to running back David Fluellen, who is the real deal. The nation’s No. 3 rusher, Fluellen bumped his average with 152 yards in the first half and 200 for the game.

It wasn’t enough for the Rockets, who had too many penalties, a couple too many field goals when touchdowns would have been nice, and one bypassed field goal attempt that would have, if good from 32 yards, given UT the lead with six minutes to play.

Anyone who knows the history of the UT-Ball State rivalry should not have been surprised.

In 1997, UT was 8-0 and nationally ranked when Gary Pinkel’s team visited Muncie, Ind., and came home on the short end of a 35-3 score.

Four years later, Tom Amstutz’s Rockets won a MAC championship, but lost 24-20 at Ball State. That 2001 UT team was the last to have been ranked before this week.

The outcome will end the briefest of stays in the top 25 for the Rockets. It doesn’t end their pursuit of a MAC championship, the key being a visit to Northern Illinois next Wednesday.

If you like 8 o’clock weeknight November football then you’ll love that game.

It will come on your TV at 9.



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