Alcoa vs. Maryville game to be broadcast on ESPN2
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The worst kept secret in Blount County is now confirmed fact.
After months of rumors and subtle signs popping up on the Internet, the administrations at Maryville and Alcoa high schools announced Monday that the 84th installment of the Six-Mile Series between the two schools will be broadcast on ESPN2 as part of the ESPN network’s three-day High School Football Kickoff.
In a joint press conference held at the Clayton Center on the Maryville College campus and opened by the neutral personage of MC football coach Mike Rader, the teams announced that the ESPN network had contacted the schools in February and that an agreement had been reached for the game to be played at noon on Sunday, Aug. 26 and to broadcast to over 100 million homes on ESPN2.
“We look for marquis players, big recruits. That’s why people watch ESPN, but we also look for great teams and great rivalries ... and that’s what these teams are,” Dan Martulis, senior director of programing at ESPN told The Daily Times from the network’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters.
The network expressed interest in broadcasting last year’s game but the schools already had a broadcast contract in place when ESPN expressed interest, and the details could not be worked out.
Any given Sunday
One of the reasons that the negotiations stretched out over four months was the issue of the Sunday time slot that ESPN’s logistics for the weekend required if the game was going to be broadcast on one of its two main channels rather than ESPNU.
“My first reaction when Josh first told me we might be playing on ESPN was just ecstatic and then the comment right after was Sunday at 12 o’clock and it was like letting the air out of the balloon. I said ‘No way, I don’t think we can do it. I don’t think I can be there, my wife won’t let me,” Alcoa head coach Gary Rankin said. “But we talked to the local ministers over in Alcoa and when you think about it, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids and a great thing for this community and I think everybody has embraced it in our community. I’ve been coaching for a lot of years and never had an opportunity like this. It just doesn’t come around too often. I know it’s a Sunday, I’ve talked to a lot of ministers in our area and they’re going to start service early and people can wear their Maryville and Alcoa stuff to church and go on to the game.”
Rankin wasn’t the only one who wrestled with the issues of a Sunday game. Maryville had not only those same timing considerations for its players and fans to consider but also logistical concerns for what promises to be the Rebels’ biggest home game. New Providence Presbyterian Church sits directly across West Broadway Avenue from the school and has been a prime parking location for the Maryville home games. A noon start introduces some major logistical challenges for the continued good neighbor policy that has benefitted both church and school.
“Playing the game Sunday at noon, that’s something we wrestled with quite a bit in both school systems. We’re at peace with it,” MHS athletic director and head football coach George Quarles told the assembled media. “The local church across the street, they’ve been more than agreeable and been helpful with this situation. We’re going to try to make a positive out of not going to church that day. It’s an exciting thing.”
Both teams indicated that team services will be incorporated into their schedule for the game preparation and Alcoa athletic director Josh Stephens said that planning for a joint pep rally and Saturday night service at the Greenbelt Pavilion was underway.
“It’s Sunday in Alcoa and it’s also Sunday in Maryville, so it’s going to be equal on both sides,” Rankin said.
The other major concern for the coaching staffs is that while they will actually gain a practice day for the Six-Mile Series following the opening Airport Motor Mile Classic at Alcoa on Saturday, Aug. 18, both squads will be playing on a short week for their district openers. Alcoa hosts Loudon the following Friday while Maryville travels to Knoxville West. Though many local teams are considering or have moved their games to that Thursday so as to avoid conflicting with the University of Tennessee’s season opener, the five-day prep time is already shortened enough by the Sunday date.
“Routine, routine, routine, it’s big in high school football. You play Friday night at 7 p.m., pregame at 3:30 and so on. It’s going to be a little different to how we treat this thing,” Rankin said. “We’re going to have some kind of service at the school for the team which will also break the routine a little bit. And then we have to get ready to play the following Friday night but weighing all those things, it was just a great opportunity for all the players and communities involved.
“It’s always difficult for us anyway after playing Maryville and getting them back in the frame of mind the following week. We’ve tried it every way possible, but coming off that game it’s just tough some times to get them turned back around for the next game.”
Maryville, even as the larger and more dominant contender in the series, has concerns about an Alcoa hangover.
“It’s a quick turnaround for us against West,” Quarles said, echoing Rankin’s sentiments. “It’s tough to get your kids back up after the Alcoa game because there’s so much hype and so much emotion in that game.
“It’s been the worst kept secret in the world, but I haven’t actually said to the team, ‘Hey, we’re going to be on ESPN’ yet. The chatter I’ve heard is the excitement.”
The heat is on
One concern that was heavy on everyone’s mind, especially after the recent heat wave, is the TSSAA heat policy. The TSSAA Heat policy is the minimum standard that member schools must follow and it prohibit schools from practicing or competing when the heat index at the location of the activity is in excess of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Alcoa has had openers delayed in the past for heat issues and the possibility of noon heat under the August sun is a concern.
“All we have with ESPN as far as our contract is that we will follow all TSSAA rules,” Stephens said. “Obviously the heat index will be in effect and we hope it’s overcast and we don’t run into that issue. I’m sure ESPN has provisions for that case as well.
“The bottom line is we will follow TSSAA rules.”
Even as the annual clash continues to see its popularity and stature grow in broadcasting eyes, both coaches expected the atmosphere and crowd that have defined the series for decades to remain.
“It’s a big enough game as it is. Last year we took it to a new level with Jerry Rice on Saturday night and it being on TV, but this takes it to a different level,” Quarles said. “I think it’s going to be an event. I think a lot of people from around the area are going to want to be there and be a part of it in that setting. That’s obviously going to make it a little bigger than it normally already is.”
“The way it keeps getting bigger, I’ve made the comment that maybe next year we need to take this thing overseas somewhere,” Rankin added with a perfectly timed one-liner.
Pushing the excitement, and possibly attendance, even higher will be the unveiling of Maryville’s new field and video board that have drawn such attention over the summer.
“I guess to have the first game on there being Alcoa is kind of a scary one,” Quarles said. “You usually want to get yourself an easier game to play on that first one but I can’t think of a better way to christen it if you will than facing Alcoa on ESPN2.”