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Maintaining the Luster of Penn State's White Out Games


Penn State White Out
© Dan Rainville/USA TODAY NETWORK

It is one of the greatest traditions in all of college football. The annual "White Out" usually occurs during a night game at State College, Pa. A spectacle to behold, many opponents consider it one of the most intimidating environments to play in. With more than 106,000 Nittany Lions faithful all dressed in white while rocking Beaver Stadium to chants of "We are Penn State," it is like nothing else in college football.



Historically reserved for Penn State's biggest home opponent of the season, the White Out only happens once a year, and while it is one of the most revered rituals in college athletics, the event is on the brink of becoming irrelevant thanks to network television not putting on the right games at the right times.



White Out Selection

Penn State selects themes for its home games. Because the White Out is the most important theme, it is picked first, and themes for other games are scheduled around it. However, uncertainty regarding network broadcasting decisions has complicated the athletic department's coordination of game themes.


Back on June 13, coach James Franklin spoke to the media and was asked when the White Out will take place this season. He responded, "If I could tell you I would." He added, "There's a lot of pushing, pulling, compromising and work with the conference, and working with the TV partners." 



In coordination with its television partners, the Big Ten Conference has announced kickoff times and network television designations for several, but not all, games involving B1G teams. The kickoff times and network designations not yet announced will be determined by a 12-day or six-day in-season notice process, in which networks select games they wish to cover and must provide the conference with notice before the games—12 days for special games like homecoming games or games played on Thanksgiving Day and six days for other games.


Because the kickoff times and network designations of all games are not yet set, Penn State is compelled to set themes for games that do have established start times. Before the timing and designation process was implemented for the benefit of television networks, Penn State easily scheduled the White Out game by simply looking to the schedule to see when Michigan or Ohio State was coming to Happy Valley.

Money and television networks have altered that dynamic.



Diminishing Prominence

The White Out's prominence has lessened in the last two seasons thanks to Penn State's most consequential home opponents not playing in the game. This diminishment is directly attributable to decisions made by the television networks. Specifically, FOX Sports has chosen to broadcast Penn State's biggest home game in their key timeslot—noon EST.



In 2022, FOX Sports elected to broadcast the Nittany Lions' home matchup with Ohio State in its noon time slot. Thus, Penn State decided to make its evening bout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers its White Out game for that season. In front of more than 109,000 fans Penn State easily defeated Minnesota 45-17. However, PSU fell to Ohio State 44-31. Did escaping the White Out treatment give Ohio State a reprieve? Maybe so, maybe not. However, shouldn't the decision be Penn State's rather than a television network's?



Again in 2023, FOX Sports' choice prevented Penn State from giving the White Out treatment to the most prominent opponent on its home schedule. The network selected the PSU/Michigan game for its noon time slot. Hence, Penn State designated its game against Iowa as the White Out game. The Nittany Lions shut out Iowa 31-0, but fell to the eventual national champions 24-15. It's too bad the Wolverines did not have to run the White Out gauntlet on their way to championship.



Moving Prime Time

Over the years, fans became accustomed to the progression of college football games on Saturdays in the fall—moving from middling games in the early time slots to intriguing matchups in the afternoon, followed by the most riveting games in prime time. But thanks to the networks getting to pick the kickoff times, that natural progression has been jettisoned.


Before the 2023 season, it was plain to see that Penn State's game against Michigan was the Nittany Lions' highest profile home contest and hence the natural fit for the White Out spectacle on primetime television.



Instead, the game was relegated to FOX's Big Noon Kickoff time slot, with Michigan ultimately prevailing. In the prime-time slot later that day, fans watched Ohio State drub a then-three-win Michigan State team 38-3. Nittany Lions fans contend that Penn State surrendered a significant advantage against the Wolverines by having the game kickoff in the early time slot rather than in the cauldron of a night-time White Out.


In 2024, PSU will host the Buckeyes again at Beaver Stadium. Both are preseason top-10 teams, and both have mostly manageable schedules. The clash with Ohio State is the biggest game Penn State will play at home, and it should be the White Out. Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t one of the games included in the B1G announcement kickoff times and network television designations. Fans should be worried that it has not been scheduled for a 7 p.m. EST kickoff.


Penn State should be allowed to select which game gets the annual White Out treatment. Television networks should not be granted veto power.



There is hope for fans. Thanks to conference realignment, there are two other big games the same day Penn State plays Ohio State—Nov. 2. USC plays Washington, and Oregon plays Michigan. So, let's hope tradition is restored in 2024, with the Nittany Lions hosting a White Out party for the Buckeyes in a dramatic evening showdown.





 

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