In recent years, we in the sports business have raged about the way college football has horned in on the high schools' proverbial turf by scheduling Friday night games. Fridays, we insist, are the sacred domain of those who perform at the prep level, and cursed be to those colleges who sell their souls to ESPN in return for lucrative TV packages that include Friday contests. Well, this weekend, the tables are somewhat being turned. To cap the two-day Gulf High School Alumni Invasion, a series of festivities and fundraisers, the Bucs rescheduled their annual showdown against Hudson (with the Cobras' cooperation) to Saturday night. While the 7:30 kickoff doesn't directly conflict with the Florida, USF or FSU games being played earlier in the day, our thoughts on this Saturday concept remain mixed.
1. Exclusive viewing rights. In other words, this is the only prep game in town on Saturday, and the plethora of alumni events will make for a carnival-type atmosphere that should draw folks from outside the Hudson-Gulf fan bases.
2. money. In addition to the gate proceeds, Gulf also will rake in cash from the sale of tickets to an on-site barbecue dinner, VIP parking and a Friday night alumni party at a local restaurant. Proceeds from these activities will go toward the creation of a scholarship by Gulf's booster club, which is always a good thing.
3. minimal traffic. Let's face it, a lot of parents who get off work at, say, 6 or 6:30 have to battle late-afternoon Friday vehicular snarls to get home, change, then get to their kid's game. No worries about that for this game.
4. The gimmick. In some ways, this whole thing seems like a really cool idea.
1. The World Series. Granted, the organizers of this game surely never envisioned the Rays playing in the Fall Classic. But playing they are, and one must assume Game 3, set for Saturday night, will keep some people away. And the Gulf boosters had better feel darn lucky the Florida-Georgia game, played the last Saturday in October in recent years, is a week later this season.
2. A short week. Normally, coaches work into Saturday's wee hours breaking down tape of the previous night's games. Those who don't do it first thing Saturday morning. Now that work must be done at some point Sunday (ask the coaches if they like the thought of that). And what if, say, a significant Bucs player gets hurt tonight? He'll have one less day to recuperate before his team's big district game next week at Zephyrhills.
3. The Friday dilemma. When we last checked, kids like to go out on Friday night, and some of them even get into mischief. We're not suggesting the kids on either roster are prone to such behavior, but the open Friday might raise some concern among coaches. Gulf has a 7 p.m. pep rally tonight, but what about afterward? Do coaches sequester their kids to keep them focused, or trust them to avoid trouble? Think we're nit-picking? Consider: College teams, even for home games, are kept together Friday nights.
4. The gimmick. In some ways, Saturday night prep football just doesn't feel right.