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OU football: Why Saturday night might be more than all right for the Red-White Game

NORMAN — Standing behind the microphone, Lincoln Riley had trouble keeping still.

Mind you, he isn’t the skittish type. Collected is his way. Composed is his nature. But late one evening last spring, it was easy to see the Oklahoma football coach was excited.

The reason?

How successful OU’s spring game had been on a Friday night.

“Kind of like you would dream the night would go,” Riley said during his Red-White Game press conference. “This may become an annual tradition.”

But earlier this week when OU announced the date for its Red-White Game — April 18 — a quick glance at the calendar revealed a Saturday game instead of a Friday one. That was a bit of a surprise after Riley’s giddiness over last year’s setup.

The spring game drew an announced attendance of 50,228, which falls short of the massive crows at places like Nebraska and Alabama, but it was one of OU’s biggest.

And remember, OU moved the Red-White Game to Friday night at the last minute last year. Bad weather was forecast for Saturday — cold, rain, maybe even storms — the prognosticators were correct. It was a miserable day. Still, OU made the Saturday-to-Friday change only a few days before the game.

While that made for a lot of behind-the-scenes scrambling, the Sooner faithful didn’t seem to mind. Friday night was a hit.

Why not do it again?

“We did kick it around,” Riley admitted earlier this week. “There were some cool benefits of it last year.”

But …

“In our minds, we said, ‘If we’re going to do another night game, let’s go ahead and do it on Saturday for families, for those that work Monday through Friday and have to get here from a little bit of a distance, whether in state or out of state,’” Riley said. “We’re trying to balance the recruiting schedule because it is such an important weekend, and then also trying to do the best thing for the majority of the fans.”

Two things about what Riley said.

First, a night game, or at least one that is played into the evening, is still on the table. Riley wasn’t trying to hide the fact OU is considering a later kick this spring.

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s no question the night atmosphere last year brought a unique buzz into the stadium for a spring game.”

Frankly, nighttime might be the best time for spring games. Most April days in Oklahoma are nice, and folks like to get out and do what they can't do in the winter or the summer. Having the spring game smack in the middle of the afternoon tends to eat up time people might spend at the park or in the yard.

A later start time might convince even more fans to attend.

Second, Riley mentioned balancing the recruiting calendar and the fans' needs. But honestly, the way OU has transformed the Red-White Game into the centerpiece of arguably its biggest recruiting weekend, it’s more of a weaving, less of a balancing.

Riley sees the spring game as a way to give recruits a sense of the game-day atmosphere. The excitement. The energy. An intrasquad scrimmage on a spring Saturday — even at night — will never feel exactly like a fall Saturday. But over the past few years, Riley and Co. have closed the gap.

Not so long ago, OU’s spring game was pretty basic. Under Riley, it has become an event with special promotions, fun extras, musical guests and appearances from past players. The athletic department has done a lot to lure fans.

Playing on Saturday night might well be the best carrot.

“We thought the weekend would give maybe a few more people the opportunity to get here and enjoy the game,” Riley said.

A few thousand more would push the Red-White Game near the upper 50,000s and might even flirt with 60,000. If that happens, standing still might be the least of Lincoln Riley's problems.

He might have trouble keeping his feet on the ground.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

Related Photos
<strong>OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with his team after last April's spring football game at Owen Field in Norman. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with his team after last April's spring football game at Owen Field in Norman. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-81eaaedc7ba78201df7345df80d25bb1.jpg" alt="Photo - OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with his team after last April's spring football game at Owen Field in Norman. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with his team after last April's spring football game at Owen Field in Norman. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU coach Lincoln Riley talks with his team after last April's spring football game at Owen Field in Norman. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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