Every so often, the question needs to be asked: why are we here? No, not on this earth. (It's to make God entertained, obviously.) Why is the MAC playing football games on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night in front of partial crowds, many of whom are ESPN camera crews?
Toledo Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg gets it, but doesn't like it, when referencing Toledo's game against Ball State last Tuesday:
But here's what bothers me more than anything. There was some guy sitting in his recliner in Little Rock who heard UT had a top-25 team, flipped on his TV, saw large swaths of empty seats on the screen, and figures we're a lousy sports town. And after halftime, when a lady in Golden, Colo., put her feet up with a Coors Light and her knitting, those swaths had turned into entire sections.
He goes onto say that more people would be in the stands if Toledo played this game on a Saturday afternoon.
I'll counterpoint Hack. Would the game really have drawn more fans if played on a Saturday afternoon, when given a choice to see the Michigan game an hour north, or the OSU game a few hours south? November is when games start to matter, and playing it on a Tuesday or Wednesday gives you exclusivity. Forget the TV ratings (although they help) — that's your night. But I do understand his concern: as a Toledo sportswriter, he doesn't want to see his town seem apathetic toward its fine teams, and I know more than anyone else that the region has a Napoleon complex when it comes to this.
But secondly ... when does Toledo ever play afternoon home games? Here is a recent history of Saturday games in Toledo and their start times:
9/15/12 vs. Bowling Green: 7 p.m.
9/22/12 vs. Coastal Carolina: 7 p.m.
10/6/12 vs. Central Michigan: 3 p.m.
10/20/12 vs. Cincinnati: 7 p.m.
10/8/11 vs. Eastern Michigan: 3 p.m.
10/22/11 vs. Miami: 7 p.m.
10/2/10 vs. Wyoming: 7 p.m.
10/16/10 vs. Kent State: 7 p.m.
10/23/10 vs. Ball State: 7 p.m.
10/10/09 vs. Western Michigan: 7 p.m.
10/16/09 vs. Northern Illinois: 7 p.m.
10/24/09 vs. Temple: 7 p.m.
9/20/08 vs. Fresno State: 8 p.m.
9/27/08 vs. Florida International: 8 p.m.
10/4/08 vs. Ball State: 7 p.m.
10/25/08 vs. Central Michigan: 12 p.m.
9/1/07 vs. Purdue: 7 p.m.
9/22/07 vs. Iowa State: 7 p.m.
9/29/07 vs. Western Michigan: 7 p.m.
10/6/07 vs. Liberty: 7 p.m.
10/20/07 vs. Ohio: 7 p.m.
10/27/07 vs. Northern Illinois: 7 p.m.
11/03/07 vs. Eastern Michigan: 7 p.m.
It was at this point I stopped looking for more outliers. But there's your pattern. In the last six years, the Glass Bowl has played one noon game and three total games played before 7 p.m. That's just their time slot. I'm sure there's a rationale behind it and maybe it's so they don't have to fight for eyeballs interested in Ohio State and Michigan. And if it's gonna be just as cold on a Saturday evening, you might as well fight for a TV appearance.
Also, I looked into the noon game in 2008: that was picked up by regional television/ESPN Game Plan. Proving once again, ask a MAC team to jump and they'll ask how high and what channel.
Whatever the reason, evening games appear to be an ad hoc tradition for Toledo football, and likewise weeknights are here to stay for the rest of the conference. Attendance may look bad, because at some point the difference between 15,000 and 25,000 isn't going to impress somebody in Arkansas, whose team averages well over 65,000 fans this year.