Why the Sooners will open the 2024 season on a Friday night

Why the Sooners will open the 2024 season on a Friday night

OU’s first game as an SEC school will come on a Friday night against Temple. Moving the opener to Aug. 30 ensures a night game and avoids the heat.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Apr 9, 2024, 12:18pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Apr 9, 2024, 12:18pm CDT

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NORMAN — OU football’s first game flying the Southeastern Conference banner will be on a Friday night.

The SEC and ESPN announced Tuesday that the Sooners’ 2024 season opener against Temple will be played Friday night, Aug. 30, with a 6 p.m. kickoff on Owen Field.

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said ESPN made the request to move the game, and the Sooners agreed for a variety of reasons, starting with a desire to play at night.

In the previous seven season openers, all on Owen Field, the only games played at night were Missouri State in 2020, when the pandemic delayed the start of college football, and Houston in 2019, which was moved to Sunday.

Arkansas State in 2023, Tulane in 2021 and Florida Atlantic in 2018 were 11 a.m. starts. Texas-El Paso in both 2022 and 2017 were 2:30 p.m. kickoffs.

“It’s really the only way we can guarantee we’ll be playing in the evening,” Castiglione said. “There’s no assurance this year that we would.

“Managing the heat, we’ve had some really difficult situations, playing at 11 or 2:30 in the afternoon. We’ve really tried to think of the players and fans, what they’ve tried to endure the last several years.

“It’s still hot at 6 o’clock, but at least it gets more manageable.”

Most fans would prefer Saturday, of course. But perhaps an even bigger majority of fans would prefer a night game. So the decision won’t be universally unpopular.

The Labor Day weekend made moving the game agreeable to OU, for a variety of reasons that will be acceptable to fans:

The university has agreed to cancel Friday classes that week, allowing the campus to get game ready. OU long has rebuffed requests to play on a Thursday or Friday, citing the traffic, parking and congestion problems associated with a football stadium in the heart of campus.

It’s hard to tailgate and find parking spaces when when students are in biomedical and Shakespeare classes. 

Other than games on Thanksgiving Day or Thanksgiving Friday, and that Sunday game vs. Houston five years ago, OU has not played a non-Saturday home game since 1914.

But some professors traditionally have canceled Labor Day Friday classes anyway, much like the Friday before the OU-Texas game in Dallas.

“We work with the campus on all of those matters, just to see if it’s doable and worth everybody’s worthwhile to try to make it work,” Castiglione said.

OU’s schedule includes seven home games, so the Sooners still will have six Saturday home games, which is their usual number. OSU, in particular, several times has hosted its season opener on a Thursday, in part because it had six other Saturday home games.

The Labor Day weekend date gives fans and students a longer holiday. A Saturday home game on Labor Day weekend slices the holiday in half. A Friday night home game gives students and fans the opportunity to launch a three-day weekend on Saturday morning.

High school football attendance could be impacted, but Labor Day weekend is Week 0, when teams are allowed to begin their season but some choose not to. Plus, many teams that do play in Week 0 choose to open on Thursday night.

Castiglione said he assured Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association officials that the Friday night game “was not some harbinger of things to come. In the SEC, there’s a very strong commitment to support high school football.”

The SEC traditionally has not played on Friday nights, though some of the schools have played on Thursday nights.

This season, Fox will televise a series of Big Ten games on Friday nights, and the Big 12 has at least nine games scheduled for Fridays.

“ESPN and the SEC came to us, asking,” Castiglione said. “That’s the only that piqued our interest. 

“This is not an indication that we’re going to be playing more Friday nights. All the dynamics came together because of the holiday weekend. It was worth taking a look at it.”

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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