Stadium Woes Could Push Northwestern-Miami (OH) to Week Zero

Northwestern may have to move their home opener to Sunday, September 1st due to scheduling inconveniences. Why not move the game to a nearly empty Week Zero slate?

Miami (OH) beat Northwestern in their last meeting in 2022.
Source: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Where Northwestern will play its home games during Ryan Field's renovations is one of college football's magnificent mysteries of the offseason. Little by little, reports reveal bizarre moves, including Northwestern playing a "home game" at Lambeau Field.

Yesterday, news of Ohio State playing Northwestern at Wrigley Field shocked many, considering Wrigley Field's small capacity compared to Ohio State. While the Buckeyes stole the headlines, the story from Matthew Shelton and Louie Vaccher of the Wildcat Report revealed another significant development.

A Chicago Fire home game at Soldier Field on Saturday, August 31, and a music festival at SeatGeek Stadium, the home of the National Women's Soccer League, have the Wildcats stranded for their home opener against Miami (OH). Consequently, Northwestern may pursue moving the game to Sunday, September 1.

Instead of moving the game to Labor Day Eve, a move to Week Zero is more mutually beneficial for Northwestern, Miami (OH), and the Big Ten's television partners. The 2024 Week Zero slate is more barren than any year since the FBS schools began playing the week before Labor Day in 2016. Only three FBS games and one FCS game dot the slate, with Florida State-Georgia Tech being the only one with appeal to the casual fan.

The Big Ten's TV partners, CBS, Fox, and NBC, have only two games combined they could potentially broadcast on Week Zero, Montana State @ New Mexico and SMU @ Nevada. NBC only broadcasts Big Ten and Notre Dame football, so they are currently out of the Week Zero broadcasting picture.

A waiver to the NCAA can move the game to Week Zero and make the week more interesting to the casual fan. Northwestern is a long-time Power Five school. Their game against Miami (OH) would have the second-most brand name recognition to Florida State-Georgia Tech. Furthermore, Miami (OH) and Northwestern drew solid viewership in network TV appearances last year.

Despite Northwestern finishing with a putrid 1-11 record in 2022, the Wildcats still received a standalone game on CBS on Labor Day Eve against Rutgers. The two perennial Big Ten also-rans drew 2.68 million viewers in their Sunday afternoon game, more viewers than both of ABC's afternoon games the day before. Miami (OH) earned an ABC appearance on the Cure Bowl on the opening Saturday of Bowl Season. The Redhawks' matchup with App State averaged 1.95 million viewers, trailing that evening's LA Bowl between UCLA and Boise State game (2.38 million) for the highest viewership of the day.

Northwestern and Miami (OH) are not blockbuster programs, but both are coming off successful seasons. Northwestern capped a remarkable turnaround season with a win in the Las Vegas Bowl against 2022 PAC-12 champion Utah in front of a national audience on ABC. Miami (OH) won the MAC with an 11-3 record and beat archrival Cincinnati for the first time since 2005. Miami is a MAC frontrunner. A win over Northwestern could vault the Redhawks into the 12-team playoff. The 12-team Playoff makes even more games relevant to the national title picture. Week Zero is the perfect stage for a game of this magnitude.

Necessity is the mother of...better TV slots? Northwestern's stadium situation is unenviable. However, some good can result from it. The MAC can get a rare showcase game that does not come on a frigid November weeknight, while Northwestern can have some semblance of a home game. The Week Zero slate needs another marquee game badly. The incompetence of the Northwestern athletic department could be Week Zero's gain.