The annual rivalry between the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles has a unique kickoff slot in 2022- a uniquely insulting one that has brought both Florida and FSU fans together to decry it.
As first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, the Gators and Noles will do battle on Black Friday evening, one day earlier than its usual slot of the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For those of you who set your calendars early, that’s a revision of the game date from Saturday, November 26, to Friday, November 25. The game is expected to kick off at nighttime in a standalone television slot.
It’s the first time since the teams met in the 1997 Sugar Bowl to decide the 1996 national championship, the two teams will play on a day other than the Saturday following Thanksgiving. And quite frankly, though the ACC (yes, it’s their home game, so it’s their call- Florida Gators AD Scott Stricklin has nothing to do with this) is banking on some major TV revenue from the move and will probably get it, it’s highly insulting to both schools and their fans.
For one thing, moving the game to Friday night screws up all kinds of travel plans for fans of both schools. Traditionally, Friday was used as something of a buffer day for fans following their time with their families on Thursday, giving them plenty of time to travel to the city in which the game is being played. Not this year.
Now, even if the game kicks off at night on Friday, fans from more than an hour or so away from Tallahassee lose the opportunity to tailgate and experience the traditional rivalry game day fun and festivities. If you don’t live within 90 minutes of Tallahassee, that’s gone. Unless, of course, you’re willing to subject yourself to a ridiculously long day on Friday and hit the road by 7 in the morning on Black Friday so you can find a parking spot in the same zip code as the stadium- an option that many are sure to find even less appealing.
And this all sucks doubly so for FSU students, who struggle mightily to get themselves back to Tallahassee for the annual rivalry even with that Friday buffer day. As a state school, FSU draws students from every major city in the state, including Jacksonville (two and a half hours away), Pensacola (three hours), Orlando (three and a half hours), Tampa (four hours), and Miami (six and a half hours).
I’m seldom going to be the guy to express sports-related sympathy for anybody who supports or attends FSU, but what’s right and wrong trumps any sports rivalry, and that’s just plain wrong. Most students only get two shots at this game in their school’s home stadium; FSU upperclassmen were already robbed of one of them due to COVID-19, and now they’re forced to choose between time with their family or being robbed of this one too? That’s simply disgusting on the ACC’s part. And that’s coming from a guy who makes “highlight” films of FSU’s team-wide ineptitude every year– again, that’s how rare it is for me to show FSU even the smallest dosage of sympathy.
But the insult is directed pretty clearly at the Florida Gators, too. Black Friday is typically the warmup for the main event on Saturday, featuring undercards like UCF-USF, Iowa-Nebraska, and Arkansas-Missouri. It’s not meant for the most high-profile of rivalry games like Florida-FSU. Evidently, that’s what the ACC executives think of both Florida and FSU.
Then again: Florida and FSU both finished with seven losses last season, so perhaps this is sort of what both teams deserve for their incompetence in 2021 in the eyes of the ACC. But this is a new season, with new players, and in Florida’s case, an entirely new coaching staff. Just because both teams have fallen off recently doesn’t mean this game has lost its meaning in the single most talent-rich state in America, and even after terrible years, this rivalry has done too much to elevate the sport of college football (remember the 1990’s?) to be given the UCF-USF treatment.
In an attempt to look at the bright side, here’s where you may want to point out that “at least this game will have a standalone audience, so everyone who likes college football will be forced to watch this game with no other game competing against it for views.” Well, it might. It might not.
Oregon-Oregon State is traditionally played on Friday evening, and the Ducks could very well be competing for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game or potentially even more depending on how Dan Lanning’s first season goes in Eugene. That’s guaranteed to draw some eyeballs out west.
Then there’s the fact that Black Friday is typically a huge weekend in the state of Florida for high school football, with many playoff games being played that day. That means that not only will some people be watching their children and friends play in critical high school football games, but now a large host of players who may have wanted to take visits to FSU for this game now cannot do so. And on top of all that, the viewers that do choose to attend or watch this Florida-FSU game over critical high school football games will mean that scores of high school athletes are robbed of the honor of having a major league audience for the biggest moments of their high school careers.
So this is just so wrong, on so many levels, but at the end of the day it just goes to show that money wins. There’s nothing fans, players, and coaches can do other than adjust and plan accordingly. It does seem to be only a one-shot deal, thankfully. And one way or another, years down the road- assuming the outcry from fans dissuades television execs from pulling this highly offensive stunt again- we’ll all remember the 2022 clash between the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles as “that Black Friday Game.”
Florida won last year’s meeting, 24-21, and has won three straight in the rivalry. The Gators lead the overall series, 37-26.