CLEMSON - For the first 64 years of the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry the game was played on Thursday in Columbia. "Big Thursday," coinciding with the state fair, gave the rivalry a unique niche in the college football world.
Clemson historian Jerry Reel said the game was nationally broadcast via radio as it was often the only major college football game played that day. Time magazine published an article on the rivalry in 1949.
Fifty-one years after the end of Big Thursday might a return to a Thursday kickoff heighten the exposure of the rivalry and help it become more nationally relevant? This week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he wants the rivalry to become more nationally relevant. While the game is an impassioned affair in state, the game is not held in same esteem, nationally, as other rivalry games like Auburn-Alabama and Ohio State-Michigan.
Moving the game to Thanksgiving could give Clemson and South Carolina a more exclusive national television platform. The Texas-Texas A&M game is the only college football game today. Moving the game up would also give the Tigers and Gamecocks more time to prepare for playing in conference title games the following week.
"I'd be fine with it," said Swinney of moving the game to Thursday. "That might serve both purposes. Maybe you play a Thursday night game and if you have got a championship game you have got a couple other days to get well.
You'd have the best of both worlds."
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said his personal preference would be to play the rivalry game on Thursday night, though he said no serious discussions have been held on the subject.
Parking has been one obstacle preventing Clemson from playing on Thursday night but it would not be an issue during Thanksgiving break.
But Phillips said elevating the rivalry's status starts with winning, not a time slot.
Clemson and South Carolina are each ranked in the top 25 entering their meeting for only the fifth time. As the former athletic director at Oklahoma State, Phillips has seen the Oklahoma State-Oklahoma rivalry status rise as Oklahoma State improved over the past few seasons.
"The key to making it relevant is both programs need to get to a high level of performance and keep it there consistently, that's when it is going to become relevant on a national stage," Phillips said. "It's not as well respected nationally as it should be ... What makes it relevant is when both programs can be in the national picture where east to west, north to south people will enjoy watching that game."
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been a part of the Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Florida rivalries and like Phillips said relevance starts with winning.
"Had Clemson won last week I had heard ESPN GameDay had planned to come here," Spurrier said. "Just both of us having success will create more national (exposure)."
Swinney said Clemson and South Carolina fans should root for their rival until the last week of the season.
"I love the fact that both teams are ranked and have had winning seasons," Swinney said. "I know there are a lot of people that want (South Carolina) to lose every game and be 0-11 and South Carolina fans want us to be 0-11 and be 0-12 after we play each other. I don't know that that's the best thing for our state. I think it's great that you have national implications as part of that game (this year) ... it's good for us from a national standpoint to take this game to higher level."