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It’s not OK that FOX spurned Champaign

The Illini lost out on big-time publicity.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 02 Pac-12 Championship - Utah vs USC Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After Illinois struggled mightily and lost on the road to Kansas, and Colorado dominated Nebraska at home, FOX decided to change things up, and send the Big Noon Kickoff pregame crew to Boulder again for Colorado State at Colorado, instead of to where they were originally planned to be, in Champaign for Penn State at Illinois.

While some believe the Fighting Illini’s poor performance on Friday was a large contributor (and it may have been) and the team doesn’t necessarily deserve to be on Big Noon Kickoff, it doesn’t change the fact that FOX has made a move that is unfair to Illinois, Penn State, the administration, the athletic department, and the fans.

FOX announced its first three weeks of Big Noon Kickoff all the way back on May 31; they had Colorado at TCU, then Nebraska at Colorado, then Penn State at Illinois. From there, they would decide where to go weekly. This is standard for Big Noon Kickoff and the other flagship college pregame show, College Gameday on ESPN.

That means for more than three months, from May 31 to Sept. 9, Fox promoted Big Noon Kickoff going to Champaign for Week 3.

102 days they said they were coming to Champaign, one of the few Power 5 cities to never host either College Gameday or Big Noon Kickoff. Commercials on FOX, online advertisements on FOX Sports’ website, as well as promotions from both teams for the game were rampant.

And then suddenly, a week before, the plug is they can go to their third Colorado game. Even though Colorado is playing a very bad Colorado State team that won just three games last season. Even though they’ll probably be right back at another Colorado game next week, if not the next two weeks, as they play at Eugene in a ranked game against Oregon, then in Boulder facing fifth-ranked USC.

I get it, Colorado is a huge story right now, with Deion Sanders coaching, his son Shedeur Sanders dominating at QB, and two-way star Travis Hunter playing WR and CB. Having beaten two Power 5 teams to surpass its 2022 win total with a team comprised mostly of transfers, people are heavily invested in watching them.

Head Coach Deion Sanders led the Colorado Buffaloes in highly anticipated home debut Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

But the Colorado-Colorado State game is far more likely to be a blowout than the Illinois-Penn State game. The two teams combined for four wins last year, compared to 19 between the Big Ten teams. Even worse, it’s not a FOX noon game; it’s an ESPN night game. There is no reason for FOX to send its flagship pregame show there for a game they’re not broadcasting. They can talk about Colorado from Champaign; people aren’t tuning in to see that they are at Boulder, they’d be tuning in to hear them talk about the Buffaloes.

The whole point of these college pregame shows is to go to as many different venues throughout the season as possible, even with the inevitable overlaps that occur. Remember that great TCU vs. Kansas game last season? Gameday went there after both teams started 4-0, creating a top-20 matchup. It was the first time Lawrence got a pregame show, and it was electric. The same thing has happened many times at many different venues. One of the best Gameday commercials is how they went to Pullman for a Washington State game after many years. Compare that to the crowd that showed for for Gameday in Tuscaloosa last week; they’re so used it that they don’t care much anymore. Even though Illinois has struggled mightily its first two games, fans were going to be there bright and early Saturday for the pregame show.

FOX basically flipped the bird to both teams, players, coaches, fans, the Big Ten, and the athletic departments. Preparations had been made months in advance. People planned out trips to Champaign, booking flights, buying tickets, parking passes, etc. All to just have a huge component of this week’s game taken away just a week ahead after three months of hype and buildup. It’s not fair, and it’s not ethical. Penn State should also be extremely angry; all it did was be ranked top-10 preseason then blow out both its opponents. They are far better than Colorado, and Illinois is far better than Colorado State, and it makes more sense for the Big Ten game to be close since PSU is playing at Champaign.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I know I’m screaming into the void. FOX executives don’t care what an Illinois student thinks, or what thousands of fans who are coming to the game think. They’ll say the game is still getting prime treatment, with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt calling. They just care about money, and they believe moving the show to Boulder to chase the Sanders show will get them higher ratings and more views. At this rate, they may go to wherever Colorado plays every weekend. It’s yet another downside to the modern era of college football, where rivalry and regionality is passed over by networks and conferences alike in favor of dollar signs.

I hope, on top of this new era of realignment failing and returning to regional conferences, the pregame shows go back to what they should be: a way to induce excitement for a football team at any of the 134 FBS campuses in America, and not the same 10 teams every season, as many different college towns as possible. I hope this PSU-Illinois game goes 10 overtimes and is the highest-scoring game ever to spite FOX, to show the energy at Memorial Stadium they missed out on. Maybe then, they will start to show other programs respect. One day, Illinois and Urbana-Champaign will get Gameday or Big Noon Kickoff, and not be screwed over last minute. And that day will be glorious, just as it was in Lawrence, just as it was in Pullman, and just as it is in every college town that doesn’t get it multiple times annually.