When #12 Penn State travels to Maryland to take on the 2-1 Terps tomorrow night at 8:00 on FS1, one can only wonder how many high school football fans won’t be traveling anywhere, and instead, staying home to watch the Nittany Lions. Some predict a decrease in local attendance ranging anywhere between ten and 25 percent.
When Roone Arledge created Monday Night Football back in 1970, there was a debate as to what night should be used. College football owned Saturday, and the NFL already had a daytime slate on Sunday. The NFL wanted a stand-alone game; a night when that particular game was the only game of the day. The two nights that were debated were Friday and Monday. Legend has it, Arledge settled on Monday because Friday was when high schools played, and he didn’t want to harm high school football.
Tomorrow night, local high schools will wish those sentiments still existed.
What could make this number even higher is the sudden, increased predominance of Penn State football in 2019. Obviously, the Nittany Lions are THE college team of Pennsylvania and have been forever. What’s different about this year is the struggle of Pennsylvania’s NFL teams.
The Eagles still have life after a 1-2 start. However, they’re riddled with injuries and seem to have a sudden inability to catch the football. The Steelers, on the other hand, have lost their Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to a season-ending elbow injury, and are stuck at 0-3 for only the fifth time in 51 years. Never before has a Steeler team started 0-3 and made the playoffs. Never.
So this even puts more emphasis on Penn State. Plus, keep this in mind.
Penn State is coming off a bye week. Die-hard fans don’t like bye weeks. They are used to watching their team play every weekend, and it’s been thirteen long days since Pitt came to town. The Nittany Lion junkies need their football fix, and they’re going to get it against a Maryland team that’s pretty good.
Also, Penn State’s seemingly lackluster start actually got better while they weren’t even playing. While the effort against Pitt seemed subpar at the time, now knowing Pitt just beat the #15 team in the country (UCF), Penn State’s 17-10 win over the Panthers looks a whole lot better. Also, the embarrassing first half against Buffalo seems less embarrassing since Buffalo just beat Temple. The week before, Temple had beaten a ranked Maryland team. (Yes, the same Maryland team Penn State plays).
Vegas has Penn State as only a 6 ½ point favorite, so the oddsmakers are expecting a close game, and the Nittany Lion faithful are desperate to see this new collection of players put together four solid quarters.
All these things add up to very real probability that many fans who don’t have kids either playing, or cheering, or in the band, will choose Penn State over the local high school. Gate receipts and concessions will suffer. Football boosters and band boosters will surely end up several hundred dollars below what they usually take in, and with today’s budgets, that could hurt.
There are a couple saving graces. Number one, the local weather looks to be very nice. The other is, with smartphone technology, the Penn State game will be in everyone’s pocket, so multi-taskers will be able to follow both events. But make no mistake about it, high school attendance will be down, while sports bars and living room couches will be busier than usual.
The Nittany Lions will cast a broad shadow over Pennsylania high school football tomorrow. Let’s hope this doesn’t become an annual event.