WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest football is about to own Friday nights.
And while the Deacs would prefer to be playing on Saturday afternoons in the traditional atmosphere of college football, Wake is embracing the reality that it will open the season with not one but three straight Friday night games.
A series of agreements involving schools and conferences and ESPN and the ACC Network meant a new matrix of college football games would evolve, and the once-sacred high school Friday night lights are now going to be dimmed nationwide, not just for Wake Forest.
It’s a trend that began years ago as ESPN and the major networks began moving games to almost every night of the week. Friday night’s long-standing tradition of high school games has all but disappeared.
So this week, as college football begins in earnest across the country, it will include a Friday night telecast of Wake Forest and Utah State on the new ACC Network at 8 o’clock.
And then one week later, Wake will travel to Rice for an 8 p.m game on CBS Sports Network, and a week after that the Deacs will return home for a Friday night game against North Carolina on ESPN.
John Currie, the new athletics director at Wake, said that all three were unique and happened not in coordination but in separate circumstances involving a lot of moving parts.
“These are all individual circumstances that just coalesced or conspired or collided in this particular year,” he said describing a process that involved the launch of the network and the league moving the opener from Thursday to Friday.
Clemson and Georgia Tech will now play Thursday in the first game since the network launch.
The other two moves to Friday were dictated by Conference USA, which controls Rice’s schedule, and then a corresponding move by the ACC to move UNC-Wake from its original Thursday slot to Friday to allow for the league rule about players getting rest on short weeks.
And so there you have it. Wake is now the star of Friday night football in America and the ACC footprint, and everybody from the teams to the universities to the fans and parents and local businesses and law enforcement have to adjust accordingly.
Not everyone is happy about it, and while Clawson said he’d rather play on Saturday, his staff and players have embraced it as an opportunity.
“I’m not going to get on a pulpit and say we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “I think we all know what we agreed to, and part of an agreement is you have to live up to your end of it. If people want Wake Forest to be on national TV on Friday nights, I look at that as a good problem. Four years ago, they weren’t asking us to play on Friday nights.”
The unique three-game experiment will have effects on a lot of people who aren’t going to be on the football field, including four other athletics events involving Wake Forest teams also playing that Friday, coaches not being able to go to high schools to scout players, and in at least one case, parents of Wake Forest players forced to choose between brothers.
Cade Carney’s parents are unhappy.
“They are,” the Wake running back said. “They aren’t too happy. The back-to-back-to-back Friday night games, they’re having to make a decision because I’ve got a brother who’s a sophomore, and he’s having a great season, and so they’re going to divide and conquer on Friday night this week.”
Carney said his parents would stay in town for the Rice trip and then decide between Wake Forest-Carolina or Davie County at West Rowan in three weeks.
“For Carolina, there’s still some argument over who’s going to what game that week,” Carney said.
Wake is trying to keep a straight face on this. But Clemson and Alabama sure don’t have to play on Fridays.
But the truth is, some schools have even stranger schedules with Appalachian State playing Wednesday and Thursday night games this season in addition to its game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Pac-12 schools are still fighting to keep from playing games as early as 9 a.m., an idea shelved until at least 2020.
It’s borderline insanity. College football is no longer a Saturday-only sport. And the schools have no control over their own schedules.
“You know how we are, we’re all a little OCD over schedules as football coaches,” Clawson said. “And so because it’s Friday, Friday, Friday, we just treat it as if it’s Saturday, Saturday, Saturday and in Week 4 you get an extra day off.
The Deacs have chosen to embrace their Friday night slot, knowing a lot of people who might not watch Wake Forest football otherwise will now have that opportunity.
Just maybe not high school fans or couples on date night or people who work late on Fridays.
Or the Carneys of Davie County.