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The Big 12 conference should embrace Thursday Night Football

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This coming weekend there are two Big 12 games that feature matchups of ranked teams: Oklahoma State (11) at West Virginia (22), and TCU (4) at Iowa State (25).

West Virginia and OSU should trade punches all game.  The duel between Will Grier and Mason Rudolph should be outstanding and the game is basically a pick ‘em (as far as I’m concerned).  The Mountaineers could easily knock off the Cowboys.

While the TCU game seems less likely to be an upset, there’s still the fact that the Cyclones have already beaten a top 10 team on the road.  They have played well since upsetting the Sooners and undoubtedly Matt Campbell will have his team ready to play.

Both these games would be intriguing even if the home teams weren’t ranked.  Strange things happen in Morgantown, West Virginia.  The same goes for Ames, Iowa.  Teams play poorly, balls bounce weird, no one is safe. Visitors better show up to play!

The good news for the Cowboys and Horned Frogs is neither of these games is at night.  Oklahoma State received the 11 am rooster kickoff for the second-straight week and TCU gets to play at 2:30.  The sun is the visitors’ friend as nighttime really brings out the magic of those venues.  It seems like on a yearly basis a good team strolls into Milan Puskar and/or Jack Trice just to be overwhelmed by the atmosphere after dark.

But what is good news for the Pokes and Frogs is bad news for the conference as whole.

The television schedule hasn’t been kind to the Big 12 lately with seemingly great matchups being relegated to terrible time slots.  Either one of those games would draw great viewer numbers.  Fans with no rooting interest in either side will still watch a game if given a reason.  Exciting offenses, unlikely happenings, and the chance of highly ranked team getting knocked off are all reasons to tune into a game.  Both those games offer up all three of those reasons.  Both should be good contests, but put either of them at night and they have the potential to be classics.

This week isn’t the only one that the viewing schedule has seemed off.  Just last week West Virginia at Baylor and Kansas at TCU got the nod for the primetime slots even though they were easily the worst matchups of the five available Big 12 games.

Last weekend, Oklahoma State at Texas was a match up between two teams fighting to stay tied for second place in the conference and keep their hopes of a championship shot alive. Oklahoma at Kansas State featured a top-10 team on the road against the Wizard Bill Snyder.  Iowa State at Texas Tech was two evenly matched teams trying to prove they belong with the big boys of the Big 12.

Instead for primetime we got maybe the saddest game in Big 12 history with TCU holding Kansas to 21 yards of total offense FOR THE GAME.  Do give credit the Bears of Baylor for what turned out to be an amazing game in Waco.  Those guys have zero quit after what has been a rough season to say the least.  But putting a game involving a winless team in primetime is a head scratcher.

Next week isn’t any better with Texas at TCU getting the nod for the single Big 12 primetime slot over Bedlam, a potential top-10 matchup with both Big 12 Championship and Playoff implications, which kicks off at 3 pm.

Nationwide, the perception of the Big 12 isn’t great.  The view continues to be it’s OU and Texas and some other guys. With Texas not being Texas for a while now the league’s reputation has just gotten worse. The fact that Oklahoma State, West Virginia and TCU play good football almost every year is completely over looked.  The networks give all the love to the SEC and Big 10, or any team with a nationally recognized logo like USC, Florida State, and Clemson.

The way to change the perception of the Big 12 as a whole is to have people watch the games and see the level of football played here.  That changes opinions, helps the brand, helps recruiting.  But how can that happen when the networks seem to be favoring other conferences over this one?

I have an idea.

The Big 12 should embrace Thursday Night Football. 

Make every team play one Thursday night conference game per season.  With 10 teams that means five Thursday nights games.  Do one per week for consecutive weeks and that’s five conference games likely guaranteed to be on national television.

There’s an appetite for football on Thursday or the NFL sure wouldn’t have a game, and the networks are constantly bribing NCAA teams to play on Thursdays.  Oklahoma State opened this season on a Thursday against Tulsa, and Texas played at Iowa State on a Thursday night as well.

Why not take advantage of an opportunity to improve your brand?  The NFL ratings aren’t doing so good lately with the constant politicizing of the league and the not-so-great play on the field.  As a football fan would you rather watch the Giants play the Titans in those terrible Color Rush jerseys they wear on Thursdays or the Sooners versus TCU? Or maybe Oklahoma State at K-State? How about West Virginia and Texas?  People would tune in, I guarantee it.  And with all eyes on the Big 12 for one game per week the league would have a chance to start to change its perception by showcasing some excellent football to a national audience!

There’s downfalls, sure.

A lot of fans don’t like a weekday game because it makes it hard to tailgate or even get to the game.  The businesses in the hometowns don’t like it because they lose the revenue of having everyone come to town all day for game.  You can make it easier by doing a ‘home and away’ schedule where you play your Thursday game at home one year, but on the road the next so the local financial impact and fan inconvenience only occurs every other year.

It wouldn’t be an easy sell to fans but I think the TV partners would absolutely get on board.  Coaches and athletic directors wouldn’t argue too much. ADs love exposure and making sure each team has a bye week just before to avoid any short weeks would make it suitable for coaches.  Ultimately, in the long run it would be better for the Big 12 conference as a whole.

The Big 12 has always been reactionary instead of proactive when it comes to competing with the other conferences, be it in TV contracts, realignment, networks, whatever.  It’s time for them make a move first and start trying to rebuild how the nation views some of the best football in the country, which can still be found in the Heartland.

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