After a year away playing in San Francisco and an extensive renovation / rebuild of Memorial Stadium is complete, Cal football will be returning to Berkeley this fall. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has just released the game schedule. It contains one big surprise, and some twists on tradition including a Friday night game in Berkeley.
Big Game in October
The surprise is that the Big Game—the traditional end of season rivalry match with Stanford that alternates between the two campuses—will be played this year in Berkeley on October 20, a whopping four conference games before the end of the season.
The season announcement, which can be found at the web link below, contains an extensive question and answer section addressing this change from tradition. It notes that Cal and Stanford voted against the proposed schedule, but were overruled by other Pac-12 teams.
The reason for the early game, the announcement says, is that a twelve game season, and the decision to hold a Pac-12 championship game on the last weekend in November or the first weekend in December, would push the Big Game either to November 17, or to Thanksgiving weekend if it was to remain of the last games of the season.
Neither Cal nor Stanford wanted a Thanksgiving Friday Big Game since many of the traditional activities of Big Game week—not to mention the student fans—would disappear over the holiday.
Both schools lobbied for a November 17 date instead, but were overruled by the other conference schools because “other dates for conference games would be significantly impacted.” (All the other traditional conference rivalries remained at or near the end of the season, however.)
“I am very disappointed that these challenges have resulted in the moving of our rivalry game with Stanford—one of the longest standing traditions in all of college football—away from its proper place and time in the rhythm of the football season”, Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour is quoted as saying in the statement.
“We do not expect this 2012 scenario to be the norm, but an exception. The 2013 and other future schedules have not yet been approved by the conference, and Cal will do its best to help ensure the Big Game will be scheduled as close to the end of the season as possible.”
(Interestingly, although I agree it would be hard to imagine this working in today’s world, there would actually be a historical precedent for a Thanksgiving weekend game. In its early years the Big Game was played on Thanksgiving Day itself, often in San Francisco. The lyrics to the Cal song “Stanford Jonah” originally began “What shall we do to the Stanfordites on Thanksgiving Day? We’ll celebrate our victory, after we play…” Thanksgiving was later genericized to “on that great day”.)
When the Big Game news was announced in a blurb on the SFGate website earlier today, the comments proved almost uniformly negative. As one anonymous commenter said “this must be what the ancient Mayans had in mind when the predicted the ‘end of the world’ in 2012.” Another noted, “this is like moving the hanky panky first and following up with the foreplay.”
Friday Football November 2
Both Cal and Stanford traditionalists may be miffed by the mid-season scheduling, which will deprive whichever team is having a poor season of the highly valued chance to, at the last minute, knock the other out of the rankings or a coveted bowl game.
However, from the standpoint of Berkeley residents whether they follow college football or not, the bigger schedule change is the implementation of a Friday night game in Berkeley against Washington on November 2.
“A number of logistical challenges certainly exist” the website announcement acknowledges. It will be a regular work and class day on campus and a Stadium full of fans (if they can get off work early, that is) will be pouring into Berkeley during the late afternoon and rush hour for what is expected to be “an early evening kickoff.”
“Cal Athletics is already working collaboratively with the academic and administrative leadership on campus to find a solution that will accommodate the needs of students, faculty, staff, football fans and neighbors who live in the surrounding community, particularly to minimize traffic concerns.”
Cal is obligated to play one home Friday night game every two years. There will be none in Berkeley in 2013, but one in the 2014 or 2015 seasons.
The 2012 schedule overall includes seven home games in Berkeley. They included Nevada (September 1), Southern Utah (September 8), a two week away game break, Arizona State (September 29), UCLA (October 6), away at Washington State, Stanford (October 20), away at Utah, then two final home games against Washington (November 2) and Oregon (November 10), and a regular season ending away game at Oregon State.
One would anticipate from past experience that UCLA, Stanford, Washington and Oregon would all pack Memorial Stadium to, or close to, capacity, and the Arizona State crowd might be fairly large, too. The Nevada and Southern Utah contests might not figure to draw capacity crowds, but by being early in the season when Cal fans are optimistic and during usually fair weather, they might still draw well, regardless of opponent.
No start times are announced, due to the tyranny of TV, which dictates last minute tweaks of the schedule.
The full schedule is below.
2012 Cal Football Schedule
Sat Sept. 1 Nevada Berkeley
Sat Sept. 8 Southern Utah Berkeley
Sat Sept. 15 at Ohio State Columbus, Ohio
Sat Sept. 22 at USC Los Angeles, Calif.
Sat Sept. 29 Arizona State Berkeley
Sat Oct. 6 UCLA* Berkeley
Sat Oct. 13 at Washington State Pullman, Wash.
Sat Oct. 20 Stanford Berkeley
Sat Oct. 27 at Utah Salt Lake City, Utah
Fri Nov. 2 Washington Berkeley
Sat Nov. 10 Oregon Berkeley
Sat Nov. 17 at Oregon State Corvallis, Ore.
Home games (in bold) at Memorial Stadium