In my column today on the Butler-Independence showdown Friday night, I briefly raised an issue that deserves more explanation.
Because 24,000-seat Memorial Stadium is closed for repairs (and believe me, that place needs it), this game will be played in the 4,250-seat stadium at Independence. It is already sold out -- I'd advise you not to show up without a ticket.
Obviously, this game could draw far more than 4,250. Probably 15,000-25,000, depending on the venue.
There was a campaign to get the game moved to the Panthers' stadium, but the Panthers said they wouldn't host the game.
Why? Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton told The Observer recently: "There are several considerations that prevent Bank of America Stadium from being the site of the Butler-Independence game, including fairness to other area schools. There is also the consideration of field damage if we were to have three days of (bad) weather as we (experienced a couple of weeks ago)."
Butler coach Mike Newsome -- who I really like and respect -- was vocal in my interview with him about his displeasure that the Panthers wouldn't host the game.
“With the season they’re having right now,” Newsome said of the Panthers, “I think it would have been a big community gesture for them to allow this to happen…. What if Clemson would have said years ago, ‘No Panthers, we don’t really want you tearing up our field?’ What if every other college had said that, too?”
The Panthers played their home games in 1995 at Clemson while their privately-owned stadium was being built.
Newsome also said about the issue -- and I didn't have room for this in the column: "It really bothers me as a community that we couldn’t have come together and allowed that to happen. When you look at how many other NFL stadiums allow high school and college teams play at their place…"
Then the coach cited as examples the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Steelers sharing Heinz Field and sometimes playing on the same weekend. The same thing happens in Tampa, with the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sharing Raymond James Stadium. Other NFL stadiums occasionally have been used for high-school state title games and the like.
Those stadiums are generally public venues, however -- the Panthers' stadium is primarily owned by the Richardson family. The Panthers have traditionally not let the grass be used for much of anything except Panthers' games, which means the stadium seats are vacant close to 350 days a year (and the field is routinely ranked very high in NFL Players' Association of best fields in the league).
Long ago, the stadium hosted a highly successful Billy Graham crusade and the Rolling Stones. It still has an annual college football bowl game right after Christmas and a smattering of other college football games (including the ACC football championship in Dec. 2010) on the horizon.
But I would agree with Newsome to a point -- the stadium is under-utilized. The grass certainly isn't going to tear up with a few more events per year, and it'd be nice to see a couple of high school games played there every season.
Then again, you can see the Panthers' point. Let's say Friday night's game is played there and Butler wins. That means Butler would be the higher playoff seed. In 3-4 weeks, the two teams could very well meet again -- this time in Butler's 2,500-seat stadium! Do the Panthers have to host that one, too?
It's a slippery slope -- there are dozens of very good high school football teams around here. All would clamor loudly for a chance to get into the stadium if the door was ever opened.
With all that said, though, I really wish the Panthers would have made an exception for this particular game.
The weather is going to be beautiful Friday night. The field would not have torn up. And about 20,000 more people could have seen live what could well be the best high school football game of 2009 in the state of North Carolina.
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