NC State-VMI is the Keydets' Biggest Regular Season Game since 1981

Network TV lights look to bring exposure to VMI to a degreee unseen since Ronald Reagan's first term. Will the Keydets take advantage?

CW will air NC State-VMI on September 16th.
Source: VMI Athletics

People know the CW for DC comics shows, afternoon reruns, syndicated shows, and now football? Well, at least for VMI fans that will come to mind on September 16th when they play NC State. The CW and NC State announced a 2 PM kickoff time.

Now, you may look at the title and think it is a bit hyperbolic, but the recent history of Keydet football supports this claim. Since 1981, VMI has two winning seasons, including a 38-year stretch from 1982-2019 without a single winning season. VMI playing relevant football in November is a rarity to say the least.

This year's game against NC State will provide national exposure on a level unseen in a long time. The argument of CW being an upstart in sports broadcasting is valid, but detractors cannot ignore that most homes have CW since it is an over-the-air network. CW reaches 100% of households without the need for a cable subscription.

While VMI receives network TV exposure from the Southern Conference's contract with four Nexstar-owned stations in the Charlotte, Charleston, Lynchburg/Roanoke, Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville markets, this exposure is mostly regional. Arguably, VMI has not had a game this high profile since the first term of the Reagan Administration.

In 1981 VMI had its last appearance on ABC or any of the Big Four networks, when ABC picked up their season finale against in-state rival Virginia Tech. VMI's last appearance on ABC before this was a 1975 loss to Virginia.

Parts of the South saw the VMI-VT game, while ABC showed Ohio State-Michigan, Southern Miss-Louisville, and West Virginia-Syracuse. If the ABC cameras were not enough exposure, Tangerine Bowl scouts attended to mainly scout the Hokies, but with a 5-3-1 record, VMI was a dark horse.

A four-degree windchill stifled both offenses as Anthony Agostinelli of VMI scored the only touchdown of the game in a 6-0 win for the Keydets. To date, this is the last win over the Hokies for VMI and ended the last winning season for the Keydets until 2020.

VMI, fresh off a 1-10 season in 2022, may be the least-deserving team to net a network TV appearance, and the viewership numbers will likely reflect this. However, the viewership still exceeds the audience VMI gets on a week-to-week basis.

For instance, in 2023, CBS televised the season-opening matchup between Arizona, who went 1-11 in 2022, and San Diego State, a Mountain West school that has never appeared in the New Year's Six. This game still nearly drew a million television viewers with 921,000 tuning in. Arizona-San Diego State was not a marquee game of the opening week slate, but because it was on network TV, it drew above-average viewership numbers relative to San Diego State.

The same applies to VMI in their game against NC State. This game is on a network that is easily accessible and hundreds of thousands of viewers may watch out of either fascination or to get a look at a Heisman dark horse, Brennan Armstrong. If VMI is competitive against NC State, then viewers stay watching and others will tune in to see a monumental upset. If an unprecedent upset is on the verge of occurring, people will tune in. After all, over 32,000 people viewed an illegal Twitch stream to see Army potentially upset #5 Oklahoma.

No matter the outcome, VMI's appearance on CW is an amazing opportunity for the school and the Southern Conference. How the Keydets respond to their opportunity in the limelight is an underrated storyline in the season's first month. History shows it is not an exaggeration to say (or sing) some Keydet fans wait a lifetime for a moment like this.