When the Atlantic Coast Conference football schedule was finalized, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson did a double-take — none of his team’s first three games would be on a Saturday.
“To me it was just circumstantial that we got picked for three games,” said Clawson, whose Demon Deacons wound up playing all three contests on Friday nights. “We didn’t choose that. If you ask every coach in our league — do they want to play on Friday nights? — I don’t think one of them would say yes. That’s always been the night for high schools, but this is the era that we’re in.”
An era driven even more by television.
Wake Forest had hoped to play its opener against Utah State on a Thursday, but the Atlantic Coast Conference Network, which debuted in August, picked that one for Friday night. Wake’s second game was at Rice, which has an agreement with CBS Sports, and that network picked the contest to be a national broadcast on a Friday night instead of Saturday.
Game 3 at home against ACC rival North Carolina was the real heartbreaker for Clawson. The ACC schools scheduled the matchup as one their nonconference games because of the league’s unbalanced scheduling. It was initially slated for a Thursday night, but also was moved to Friday.
For a coach trying to turn around a program that hadn’t had much success before he arrived six years ago, that was difficult for Clawson to accept, even though he knows it comes with the territory.
“It’s a negative for recruiting,” said Clawson, who has guided the Demon Deacons to three straight winning seasons and has them ranked No. 22, their first appearance in the Top 25 in more than a decade. “Our Utah State and North Carolina games were close to sellouts. They were incredible atmosphere.
“We had a packed stadium and we would have loved to have high school football players see those games against good teams in a great environment.”
Clawson said when Wake Forest initially scheduled North Carolina, the rare move was made in part to have a home Saturday game against a traditional rival “that we could invite 300 recruits to and very few high school players got to come to that game because they were playing.”
It’s the major reason why Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t a fan of playing games on Friday nights.
“I don’t like them. I don’t have a vote, don’t get to have a say,” Swinney said. “I like high school football. I like seeing my sons play. Had to miss one a couple of years ago. Just TV dictates all that, so I don’t have much say in it. I don’t sit around and worry about it, but I’m not a fan.”
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said he’ll play any night, except Friday night in the Steel City.
“We don’t want to play any Friday nights. Let’s be real frank there,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t ever want to play on a Friday night in Pittsburgh because high school coaches would be like, ‘Come on coach, what’s going on?’ But that would not be my decision. Unfortunately, ESPN and some of these conference offices dictate when we play.
“I think Friday nights are sacred and they should be saved for high school football. Period,” Narduzzi said. “They’re only fun when you win and they’re not in Pittsburgh.”
For the record, Pitt beat Syracuse on the road on a Friday night in mid-October.
Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said he hasn’t received any negative feedback.
“Our fans enjoy Friday nights,” said Wildhack, who spent more than three decades at ESPN before taking the job at his alma mater three years ago. “We have not had any pushback from our fans. We didn’t have any pushback from area high schools, so for us it’s been good.”
To be sure, adverse effects of the ACC’s Friday night games have been felt at the high school level.
“To have college games definitely hurts attendance,” said David Allen Plaster, athletic director at East Forsyth High School outside Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one of Wake Forest’s recruiting targets. “Being an athletic director, I also understand the dollars and cents issues in sports. You’re trying to accommodate both ends. … You’re battling a bunch of different demons trying to figure out what’s best.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the almighty dollar.”
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, regularly pleads to keep Friday nights for high school football.
“There’s been frustration for some time now,” Niehoff said. “We admittedly can’t do much about it. We’re going to keep fighting the fight. We’ll just keep trying to be heard out there.”
So, too, will Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.
“We’ve been unanimous on this the last three years across all levels — that we want to not play on Friday night,” Berry said. “We have been very open about the fact that Friday night should be protected just as the NFL has not played on Saturdays because they recognize … that at the collegiate level we need to be successful for them to be successful.”
The ACC said in a statement to the AP that it “continues to be supportive of high school football and the importance it plays throughout local communities.” The league said its goal is to schedule a limited number of Friday night games early in the season “and in markets where sensitivities to high school football are different than in other areas of our footprint.”
Berry said the ACC and all of the other conferences know where coaches stand on the issue.
The fact that SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey staunchly refuses to consider playing on Friday nights is not lost on Wake’s Clawson, as is the fact that the SEC Network also was developed by ESPN and broadcasts 45 football games a season.
“We’re aware of that,” Clawson said. “This (playing Friday nights) was part of the negotiations that were made by the league office in launching the ACC Network. It’s part of the deal, so for me to get up and complain about it, it can’t be genuine. This is the league we’re in. I think we have to support our conference.”
By JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer