This season marks the 100th anniversary of Spartan Stadium.
There will also be one less game played in East Lansing than previously scheduled.
Michigan State on Wednesday announced its regular-season finale against Penn State is moved up a day to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, Black Friday, at Ford Field in Detroit. It will be broadcast on NBC and streamed on Peacock.
Moving the game off campus and to the home of the Lions was met with mixed reviews by fans.
“I think to move forward in making sure our department and Michigan State and Michigan State athletics are moving forward in a positive way, there’s going to be some decisions that not everyone agrees with,” Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller said Thursday on The Drive with Jack podcast. “And I understand that and I’m comfortable with making those decisions if the process to get to those decisions is rational and not reckless.”
The Big Ten in August announced a new 7-year, $7 billion media rights deal with FOX, CBS and NBC. According to a Sunday report by ESPN, then-Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren exceeded his authority and left key issues to be resolved for new commissioner Tony Petitti, who was hired in April.
“There were some things that the member institutions within the Big Ten needed to do to accomplish some of the goals of the NBC contract and one of those was the number of night games throughout the year,” Haller said. “Michigan State was asked and I think we were asked for a reason. If you look at some of the other schools that were asked to move games or play in prime time, I think this is a really good example of how Michigan State is perceived by the TV partners.”
NBC needs to fill out its schedule, Michigan State is one of the schools that was asked and Haller said building good will with the Big Ten was a factor. Ohio State also agreed to host the Spartans for an NBC night game on Nov. 11.
Haller said moving the Penn State game wasn’t forced on him and it wasn’t a unilateral decision. He put together a confidential focus group from the athletic department, donors, season ticket holders and others to get their feedback and said most was positive. After nearly a month of discussions, Haller said there were more pros than cons.
“It was a close call,” he said. “I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a slam dunk decision for me. It wasn’t ‘we have to do this, I want to do this, make it work.’ That never came into the way I was thinking.”
Haller, who was hired as athletic director in September 2021, has deep ties to the university and area. The Lansing native was a standout defensive back at Michigan State who was also on the track and field team and went on to play three seasons in the NFL. He spent 13 years with the Michigan State University Police before joining the athletic department in 2010. Haller knows the importance of home games to fans and why there’s some pushback.
“I understand the criticism and actually I appreciate the criticism a little bit in that our fan base is passionate, our alumni are passionate,” Haller said. “I love Spartan Stadium, I played over 25 games as a student-athlete in that stadium, I attended the games as a kid and as an adult. I love Spartan Stadium, I love what it represents, the history. By no means am I devaluing Spartan Stadium by saying let’s play this one game at Ford Field.”
By moving the game to Ford Field, Michigan State’s home schedule is reduced from seven to six. The Spartans play their first four games at home – highlighted by a visit from Washington – and then host Michigan on Oct. 21 and Nebraska on Nov. 4. Those who already paid for season tickets will be reimbursed for the Penn State game and parking refunds have already been made, Haller said.
“I didn’t make this decision to make money,” Haller said. “This wasn’t a decision to look at the bottom line and say, oh, this is an opportunity to capitalize and add money to our budget. No. What I did make sure though is that we didn’t lose money. We will make whatever average revenue for a home Spartan football game. Those things are guaranteed.”
Haller said those guarantees came from the Big Ten. Although he didn’t put a dollar figure on what Michigan State will receive, there are additional parties involved.
“What’s important to know is that those that made money off of home football games that were not athletics, like concessions and housing and some of those other entities here on campus, are going to be made whole,” Haller said. “Part of this agreement allows us to make sure that they are not going to have lost revenue from their bottom line. That’s important.”
Michigan State’s regular-season finale featured some lightly-attended games in recent years as the result of numerous factors, including the team’s performance, the opponent, the weather and students being home for Thanksgiving. Last year’s finale at Spartan Stadium was a double-overtime loss to Indiana with bowl eligibility on the line. That drew an announced crowd of 56,136 on a frigid day in East Lansing and there were far fewer than that number actually in seats.
The battle for the Land Grant Trophy in the rivalry between the Spartans and Nittany Lions will be decided indoors this year. It will be Michigan State’s second game at Ford Field, following a win against Florida Atlantic in 2010.
“This decision was not made because it snows here and it’s cold here during that time period,” Haller said. “That did not play a big part of this decision because what people have to realize is when we get to the expanded College Football Playoff (in 2024), those first-round games will be at home sites and if Michigan State is fortunate enough to get into that College Football Playoff, we’re going to have that in our home stadium.”
Moving the game to Detroit means Michigan State vs. Penn State will be played a day after the Lions host the Packers for their annual Thanksgiving game and it also bumps the MHSAA state finals back a day. Making it work logistically required collaboration and Haller said the players are excited about the opportunity at Ford Field and he has no intention of taking away a home game every year.
“I think as a one-time opportunity, this might be an event that people will look back on and say ‘that was pretty cool, I’m glad I did that,’” Haller said. “It may take driving a few more hours to get there, it may take coming out of your normal routine but I want people to understand that I celebrate routines, I celebrate tradition, I celebrate everything that goes into Spartan Stadium and being here. And those are important to me as the director of athletics here and I’m going to make sure that we celebrate those things and keep them in place but I did think that it was important we tried this one-off opportunity.”
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