Kenan Stadium, nestled in the heart of UNC's campus, presents a challenge for Thursday night games due to the various hospitals, schools and departments affected during the week.
As if those obstacles weren't enough, North Carolina had finalized a home game with Old Dominion for Oct. 12. That Saturday is also University Day, which is when UNC expects to install its new chancellor. Current Chancellor Holden Thorp announced his plans to resign last September.
Athletic director Bubba Cunningham and head football coach Larry Fedora had conversations about possibly hosting a Thursday night game at Kenan Stadium and decided to move ahead with the plan, according to Rick Steinbacher, UNC's Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Communications.
North Carolina's fall break begins on Wed., Oct. 16, thereby providing the best and likely only opportunity for a Thursday night home game. So not only were athletic department officials tasked with moving the Old Dominion game on Oct. 12, they also had to orchestrate the various parts involved to lock down an ESPN primetime contest just five days later.
"We worked really hard the last couple of weeks with the ACC and with Old Dominion to get that ODU game moved to Nov. 23," Steinbacher said on Monday.
With Oct. 12 cleared for University Day, athletic department officials turned their attention to discussing the Thursday night opportunity with various campus groups, ranging from the dental school to faculty members. Cunningham set up a meeting with everyone involved to determine if UNC could pull off its second Thursday night game in five years.
"We met with the department of public safety, the faculty, the employee forum, the town of Chapel Hill - lots of different folks - who all said that the Thursday night football game when we hosted Florida State in '09 was a huge success and a huge benefit to the community," Steinbacher said. "Certainly it caused some work for the campus community, but it did not cause any major issues."
In a statement on Monday, Cunningham highlighted the platform a Thursday night home game provides to promote the University and campus in a primetime setting. He also referenced the economic benefit of the '09 game against Florida State, which Steinbacher expanded on during his interview with Inside Carolina.
"The economic impact on the town was really strong," Steinbacher said. "We got a lot of positive feedback from the Orange County Visitors Bureau, which basically represents the hotels and the restaurants. They told us the economic impact from that Thursday night game was really positive. Not only that Thursday night, but also people coming to Chapel Hill, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and staying the entire weekend."
The town of Chapel Hill did not conduct an economic impact study for the October 2009 Thursday night game. The most recent study conducted was for the 2008 home football against Notre Dame, which generated an impact of $6.4 million, according to VCU's Center for Sport Leadership.
Steinbacher pointed to a wealth of communication and collaboration between the various campus groups in making the '09 game a success. Those efforts, along with the potentially strong economic impact for the community, made the decision to seek a Thursday night game this fall relatively easy.
"Let's jump through the hoops that we need to jump through, let's communicate the way we did in '09 and let's try to make it happen again this year," Steinbacher said of his department's approach. "And then again, you throw on top of that the major conflict that we were going to deal with if we didn't pull all of this off, having University Day on the same day as a football game. It just all fit together really, really nicely."
North Carolina is 6-4 overall in ESPN Thursday night games. UNC will also open the season at South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 29.