By Will Vandervort
There are not too many Clemson people out there that are thrilled about their Tigers playing on a Thursday night, especially in Death Valley.
Clemson home football games are a special time where the Tigers’ crazy and devoted fans love to come and tailgate all day on a fall Saturday afternoon. It’s like a big family reunion in a lot of cases. Some fans will get to Tigertown a good eight to 10 hours before kickoff, while most fans are generally parked and tailgating five hours before the first kick.
Clemson University is asking fans not to get to Clemson on Thursday prior to the parking lots opening, which will not open until 2 p.m., because of classes that will not get out until 12:15 p.m. That request is understandable. Nonetheless, it still takes away from the Clemson Game Day Experience.
Playing on a Thursday night sucks a little bit of the enthusiasm out of the atmosphere on game days. Granted, there will still be somewhere around 75,000 or so fans in attendance when sixth-ranked Clemson host Georgia Tech, but a good bit of those fans will not get there until right before kickoff or maybe an hour or two earlier.
Also, let’s not discount the fact that a good portion of Clemson’s fan base comes from other parts of the state like the Charleston or the Pee Dee areas, which are sometimes four to five hour drives. Let’s face it; Clemson is not an easy place to get to.
Those fans that are not coming, not only hurts attendance at the football game, but it also hurts the local economy, too. A lot of people coming from Greenville and Anderson, will more than likely show up right before the game starts and then go back home when it is over.
In other words, they will not stop by and visit the downtown shops or eat at any of the local restaurants.
As for the hotels in the area, they will take a hit too because those that usually come from Charleston, Columbia or Myrtle Beach will more than likely stay home because they have to work the next day.
“It is what it is. You don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it because they are not going to reprint (the schedule),” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Like the fans, the Tigers head coach isn’t too much of a fan of Thursday night games at home, either. Not only will a game that is usually sold out have some empty seats, and fans can’t show up as early as they would like, but also it limits the number of recruits that can come to the game as well.
“There are always negatives that you can point out, but my job is to try and win the game and get my team prepared to play,” Swinney said. “That’s what I focus on. I don’t really worry about all the other stuff.
“If had a preference, I would love to play on Saturday. It would be great.”
Historically, the Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) have not played very well on ESPN’s Thursday night games. Granted, they have won their last two—at Wake Forest in 2012 and at NC State earlier this year—but Clemson is 3-9 all-time on ESPN Thursday night games and that includes a 0-2 record in Death Valley.
“I don’t really worry about it. I always love playing on Saturdays. I think that is great,” Swinney said. “I just say okay, let’s go. Let’s get a plan and let’s go play. It should not matter.”
It should not matter, but it has in the past. A No. 22 ranked Georgia Tech team beat the Tigers, 24-21, on November 12, 1998 in front of 62,012 people, while NC State, the ninth-ranked team in the land at the time, stayed undefeated and improved to 9-0 thanks to a 38-6 victory over Clemson on October 24, 2002.
Since then, Clemson has avoided the ESPN Thursday night game at home by agreeing to play on the road on any Thursday night. In eight of the last 11 years, the Tigers have played eight Thursday night road games.
Finally, with ESPN wanting to spotlight a nationally ranked Clemson team that has high profile players like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins on its roster, Clemson had no choice but to host its first Thursday night game in 11 years.
“I think I’m more excited to play than I am about the time or the night,” Boyd said. “Getting the opportunity to go out there in one of my last games at home is going to be a fun environment in general.
“Playing on a Thursday night will make it that much better. The atmosphere may be a little bit lighter, but again, it is still a big game and it is big for our fans. It gives us a chance to come back home and get a victory. It is going to be sweet.”
But it could be much sweeter if it was played on a Saturday.