For the first time in their 119-year year rivalry, which stretches all the way back to 1898, Michigan and Michigan State will play at night this Saturday.
The 7:30 kick-off time excites the recruits, the players, and the students. In other words, young people. The night game bothers many older fans, and worries store owners, university officials, and the police.
True, the late starts can bring a new energy to the game, which they did when Michigan hosted Notre Dame in Michigan’s first ever night game, in 2011. After the Wolverines pulled off an amazing 17-point comeback, the crowd stuck around for 30 minutes, just to cheer.
But older fans don’t like getting in their cars after midnight, especially when many have to drive several hours. Everyone else is worried about how fans will behave after a full day of tailgating. Some restaurant owners are prepared to close their doors if things get out of hand, and the police and university leaders of both schools are working to keep that from happening.
So why risk it? That one’s easy: Money.
The Big Ten conference’s TV contract has grown so big that next year member schools will receive more than $50 million – each. But it comes with a catch: TV gets to decide when you play, which has folks at both schools grumbling about the situation.
This reminds me of a gathering in 2001 of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group of university leaders who had organized in 1991 to save college sports from being swallowed by the massive amounts of money they were already generating.
Things got hot when the infamous Sonny Vaccaro, who had worked for Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, took the podium.
“I’m not hiding,” he told them. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is to buy your school. Or buy your coach.”
This prompted Penn State’s president-emeritus, Bryce Jordan, to ask, “Why should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
All the presidents thought Jordan had gotten Vacarro – but they soon discovered he had only set a trap for them. Vacarro smiled. “They shouldn’t, sir. You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir, but there’s no one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”
As UNC’s former president William Friday said, “Boy the silence that fell in that room. I never will forget it.”
So if you don’t like night games, don’t get mad at the TV networks. They can only offer the money. What’s changed is how eager universities are to take it.
It didn’t used to be like this. Michigan’s legendary coach, Bo Schembechler, often said, “Toe meets leather at 1:05. If you want to televise it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too.”
Bo’s boss, Don Canham, backed him. For years, TV was dying for a night game at the Big House. Canham wasn’t. So, they compromised — and didn’t have one.
OK, you start dictating terms to TV networks, they might cut back on the cash — though I doubt it. But even if they did, what would that mean? It might force your rowing team to make do with a $20 million training facility, instead of a $25 million one. Perhaps these universities could survive such deprivations.
It would be worth it if, in the bargain, they got their souls back.
For the book launch for THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, I’ll be speaking at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Auditorium on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, sponsored by Literati Bookstore. Free admission, with hundreds of books available for purchase, and I’ll sign them all, just like last time.
Hope to see you there!
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION
The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.
-George F. Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning Syndicated Columnist
The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.
-David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Once in a Great City
Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James’ The Boys In The Boat, and John McPhee’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. What Bacon does so humanely, so expertly, and so compellingly is bring this story back from obscurity, into vivid life. Bacon sets the clock in motion, it’s literally ticking as we wait. That is the thrill of this book; to learn to care about these people under Bacon’s expert artistry, and to see this calamitous event rippling through life today. This a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range as a journalist and page-turning storyteller.
-Doug Stanton, New York Times Bestselling author of The Odyssey of Echo Company
When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading hours after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.
-Beth Macy, New York Times Bestselling author of Factory Man and Truevine
John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people. This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book. Highly recommended!
Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Bestselling author of Cronkite
FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS:
THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION
A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Author: John U. Bacon
A history of the destruction of a Canadian city by an explosion as powerful as a nuclear weapon. In 1917, the thriving seaport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was leveled by a munitions explosion of unprecedented force when two ships collided in the city’s harbor. One carried 2,925 tons of high explosives; 494 steel drums of combustible airplane fuel; 250 tons of TNT, and 2,366 tons of the unstable, poisonous chemical picric acid, even more powerful than TNT. The ship was bound for France via Halifax as part of a convoy, the better to avoid German U-boats, until miscalculations ended in a devastating “awkward, dangerous dance.” Synthesizing locally published sources, a family archive, and World War I histories, Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail: events leading up to the ships’ arrival; a capsule history of Halifax and a reprise of the start of World War I; the nail-biting collision; and its gruesome, horrific aftermath. Fires blazed, fueled not only by the explosives, but by overturned stoves and furnaces in homes; shock waves blasted out windows, spewing glass; railroad tracks were thrown up, factories crushed, wooden houses reduced to kindling. A tsunami, created by the air waves, quickly followed. Many who survived the conflagration were caught in the undertow and drowned. The explosion, Bacon writes, “destroyed 6,000 buildings, rendering 25,000 people—almost half the population of Halifax—homeless in one-ear-splitting whoosh” and killed 1,600 instantly. Corpses, many dismembered or burned beyond recognition, were scattered everywhere. Survivors at first assumed that the city had been attacked by Germans; years later, trials revealed the culpability of the ships’ captains. When word spread—by telegram—to other Canadian cities and to Nova Scotia’s American neighbors, help was immediate and generous. Boston, especially well-prepared because of the war, sent doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and many millions of dollars in aid. Since 1976, Boston’s annual Christmas tree has been a gift of thanks from Halifax. An absorbing history of disaster and survival.