One easy way for a college football program to get additional national exposure is through primetime broadcasts. For Penn State, being visible on television is one key to navigating through the remaining sanctions years. Naturally, head coach Bill O’Brien would like to play more night games.
“I was impressed by our night game atmosphere,” said O’Brien. I think we need to play more night games at Penn State.”
The Nittany Lions’ home contest against Ohio State last season was a 5:30 p.m. kickoff, but there has not been an 8 p.m. start in Beaver Stadium since 2010. This season, the contest against Central Florida is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and the highly anticipated homecoming game against Michigan is set for 5 p.m.
Add in another 8 p.m. kickoff in Columbus in late October, and it’s more games starting after 3:30 p.m. than the Nittany Lions have played in quite some time. Still, O'Brien wants more.
“Once we start playing additional night games, more rivalries will be created, and it will be really exciting,” O’Brien said. “I think we’re going to play more night games."
While there is no policy against it, the Big Ten has been weary of playing night games in November due to possible adverse weather conditions.
According to an ESPN Big Ten article, the most recent November night game between two conference teams goes back to 2008, and it was in the Metrodome between Minnesota and Iowa.
“When I first got here, everybody said to me there’s a rule that we don’t play night games [in November], and I consistently ask people if that’s documented somewhere,” said O’Brien.
Given the usual raucous atmosphere of Beaver Stadium under the lights, O’Brien’s request makes sense.
“These kids come to a night game at Beaver Stadium. Maybe you have three whiteout games. That’s a great atmosphere. I vote for playing night games in November.”
For someone who spent five seasons coaching in New England, the cold weather and possible snow does not deter him here.
"We played an AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium when it was 15 degrees below zero. I know that’s the NFL, but football is football.”
Back in February, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the conference was open to additional night games later on in the season.
"There seems to be more of an openness to open that window on the game-day experience, whether it's in November or October. We won't stand in the way. We just have to figure out the best way to do it, but I think there's value there."
"November is a good option. Historically, we've been resistant to that for weather reasons and our kids getting home so late at night or early in the morning. We're more open to it now. One of the things we have to look at is the historical temperatures in November, what they look like, and [then] we can make an informed decision on that point. I'm open to it."
A few months later when the primetime conference slate was revealed, there were still no November night games.
Mark Rudner, Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration said the following in response to the schedule:
"It just wasn’t aligned this year. But moving forward, we'll have 'em. Whether it's in 2014 Or 2015, we'll see some." We're not going to shy away from it," Rudner said. "It just didn't happen this year."
Kevin Wilson, in his third year in charge of Indiana’s football program, agreed with O’Brien.
“I think there’s potential for it,” Wilson said. “That’s a quality primetime slot, and we need to keep branding ourselves.”
“At the same time, we don’t want to just put some random game there. We want it to be quality.”
One of the most anticipated contests in the college football season in 2011 and 2012 was a primetime contest between Southeastern Conference juggernauts LSU and Alabama. More Big Ten night games could help bring the conference all the way back as someone tries to end the SEC's run of seven consecutive national championships.
“The atmosphere of night games is really important. When we have a night game, it’s a big deal. The SEC plays night games at Florida, at Albama, at LSU. They’re fun for their fans, they help in recruiting, you get primetime TV games. I love night games,” said O’Brien.