Bonamego says Black Friday game 'doesn't make sense'
In front of what is likely to be the lowest turnout of any Central Michigan home football game this year, the Chippewas host Eastern Michigan at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
The game will serve as CMU's yearly participation of what has infamously become known in the Mid-American Conference as "The Black Friday Game."
Classes at CMU are not in session after 5 p.m. on Wednesday and residence halls close Wednesday night and don't open back up until Sunday. Historically few students return to campus to watch the Friday game during Thanksgiving Break. The Chippewas take on the last-place Eagles in the regular-season finale.
First-year Head Coach John Bonamego said scheduling games the day after Thanksgiving is not practical, given the MAC's recent struggles drawing student crowds to games.
"I think we should make every effort in the future to try and schedule these things before Thanksgiving, before the students leave to go home," Bonamego said. "I made my feelings known at the league meetings. When we are all kind of struggling for attendance across the board, it just doesn't make sense to schedule a game when you don't have anybody. A lot of those decisions are way above my pay grade."
The national average for major college football attendance is down to the lowest it has been in 14 years. Meanwhile, many universities like CMU use deals with large marketing companies such as IMG College to keep attendance levels high enough to stay Division I eligible.
History shows the postseason implications of any given game played on Black Friday also has an effect on how many fans are willing to make the trip back to campus.
The Eagles came to Mount Pleasant on Black Friday in 2013, and lost 42-10. A total of 5,214 people were announced to have attended the game.
Before 2013, the last Black Friday game CMU hosted was in 2009, when Mid-American Conference West rival Northern Illinois came to Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
CMU won 45-31 en route to a MAC Championship. A total of 15,113 people were there to watch CMU finish off a perfect 8-0 conference record.
In 2009, the Mid-American Conference and ESPN reached an eight-year contract which stipulates the network broadcast a minimum of 11 MAC football games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU each season. Due to airtime allotted for more prominent college and professional sports, many of the MAC's games are slated for the middle of the week.
"I don't know what the hang ups would be to have everybody play on Tuesday. I'm sure a lot of that is driven by TV," Bonamego said.
Last summer, MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher pointed to advancements in infrastructure as one of the avenues member schools can use to drive attendance numbers back to the desired level.
"Quite frankly, we are in a different era (of college football)," Steinbrecher said. "We make the at-home experience so good. With what you can see on TV, sometimes it's warmer and dryer than what you can see sitting in the stands."
Three other MAC games will be played on Black Friday this year. Western Michigan travels to Toledo, Kent State makes a short trip to play Akron and UMass takes on Buffalo in Upstate New York.
CMU's coach proposed a different way to attract attention to the conference late in the season.
"I think it would be cool to have everybody go to a neutral site and play multiple games like you do in the state high school playoffs," Bonamego said. "You buy a ticket to see one game, and that gets you in to see a couple of games. There are a couple of venues that come to mind."