LEXINGTON, Ky. — Proudly clad in Tennessee orange, Alee Lynch Gunderson and her husband Mike decided many months ago to attend Saturday’s football game at Kentucky.
Only they never expected it to draw a 7 o’clock kickoff on the last night of November.
“We even found a kennel that was open at 7 a.m. so we could board our dogs on the day of the game,” said Lynch Gunderson, who grew up in Spring City and is a 2005 UT grad. “We were sure this would be a noon kickoff.”
Instead, the Gundersons could have spent the entire morning with Mabel Sue, their blue tick coonhound, and Oskee, their German shorthair pointer, before leaving their current home in West Lafayette, Ind., and driving more than five hours to Commonwealth Stadium.
Not that Big Orange fans were the only ones upset with the late kickoff for a season-ending game between a UT team that entered the night with a 4-7 overall record (1-6 in Southeastern Conference play) against 2-9 (0-7) UK.
“I’m very disappointed,” said longtime Big Blue fan Jim Simpson, who drove close to two hours from his South Shore, Ky., home in the northeast part of the state.
“I think we’ve had seven home games this year, and five of them have been at night (actually it was 6 and 4 for UK). We’re just lucky it’s not as cold as it was supposed to be. I’m sure there would have been a lot more people here if they’d played it at noon.”
The SEC’s Saturday schedule broke down as follows:
Florida State at Florida kicked off at noon, Wake Forest at Vanderbilt at 12:21 EST, Alabama at Auburn at 3:30 EST, Georgia at Georgia Tech also at 3:30, UT at UK at 7, Clemson at South Carolina at 7 and Texas A&M at Missouri at 7:45 EST.
Simpson understandably seemed most upset about the Wake Forest-Vandy kickoff.
“Vanderbilt got a noon start and it wasn’t even a conference game,” he said. “And they’re three hours farther south than we are. It seems like on that alone they should have had the night kickoff.”
It’s all about television, of course. Four of the SEC’s games, including UK-UT on ESPNU, were on the ESPN family of networks. CBS had Alabama-Auburn. ABC televised Georgia-Georgia Tech. The SEC network did the Wake-Vandy game.
And those who braved the moderate cold inside Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night will no doubt believe the announced crowd of 54,986 would have been at least 7,500 larger without the late start.
But while UT athletic director Dave Hart was unavailable for comment, UK AD Mitch Barnhart downplayed the possible negative impact of the late start.
“Late night in late November isn’t probably what anybody really wants,” Barnhart said a few minutes before the opening kickoff. “But everybody has their times to play those games. And if you’ve got a good game, people will show up regardless.”
But this wasn’t a great game. Nor was it a great starting time.
Said Barnhart with a shrug: “Everybody in the league deals with it at one time or another.”
Not everyone deals with two losing teams taking the same field on the last night of November, however.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...