The Charlotte 49ers and the Temple Owls will kick off their college football game about 7:05 p.m. Friday at Jerry Richardson Stadium – about the same time, dozens of high school football games begin within a half-hour drive of the Charlotte campus.
The simultaneous kickoffs will do more than pit college football against high school games on the traditional night for prep football. They also create hardships for the 49ers’ program, which relies in part on help from workers and volunteers who typically devote their Friday nights to high school football, then switch to the Charlotte campus on Saturdays.
But Friday night college football is a fact of life now.
It is, in short, driven by television contracts.
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“I’ve always believed that Friday night was for high schools,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “I’ve always believed that. But sometimes we play when TV says we play.”
Conference USA, of which Charlotte is a member, has a contract with CBS Sports to air nine Friday football games this season. That schedule includes the 49ers-Temple contest, which will be aired on CBS Sports.
“Television and the C-USA TV contract are the reasons why our game against Temple was moved to a Friday night,” said 49ers athletics director Judy Rose. “When the request came from the conference, we contacted Temple, and they agreed to move the game as well.”
Conference USA is hardly alone with the Friday schedule. The ACC, Pac-12 and Mountain West are among other conferences with Friday night telecasts.
This goes back to the 1984 Supreme Court decision in the case of the NCAA v. Board of Regents at the University of Oklahoma. The NCAA had a contract with ABC for college football telecasts until the late 1970s, and only Saturday games were aired, except the day after Thanksgiving.
But then major college football programs formed the College Football Association and began negotiating their own TV deals. The NCAA threatened sanctions against CFA teams that negotiated with other television networks, which led to the court case.
The Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA, but Justices Byron White and William Rehnquist wrote in their dissenting opinion that they feared, among other things, a proliferation of telecasts would push some college football to Friday nights and damage high school football.
The Friday night telecasts came to pass within a few years.
49ers officials say they have worked to build strong cooperation with area high schools and prefer to play their games on Saturdays. But the Conference USA contract was the driving force in moving the Temple game.
Sue Doran, athletics director for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said she prefers the traditional weekend schedules.
“Obviously, I would much prefer that Friday nights remain a night solely for high school football,” she said.
Lambert sees it the same way.
“I grew up in Kansas, and Friday nights were always a big time for communities and their high school football teams,” he said.
Either way, Doran adds, she thinks high school football in the Charlotte area will continue to thrive.
“Charlotte-area football is competitive and entertaining, and I am confident that our school communities will continue to come out on Friday nights and support their student-athletes,” she said.
This is the only Friday game on the 49ers’ schedule this season.