INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State football coach James Franklin came clean during Big Ten media days: when the school surveyed its fans about their favorite concession items at Beaver Stadium, it really wasn’t interested in those answers.
Those questions were just a ruse to get to the question the Penn State athletic department really cared about: what the Nittany Lions’ fan base wanted most from the annual Whiteout game.
When Franklin and athletic director Patrick Kraft went over the data, one thing became clear: the opponent wasn’t what mattered most to the Nittany Lions’ fans.
“We did a very simple poll of our fans on social media, and we mixed it in there with what’s your favorite thing, the hamburger or hot dog,” Franklin said. “We set it up to act like we cared whether it was a hot dog or not, but we were setting it up to get to the Whiteout question.
“The data said that most people want a night game. When we looked at our schedule, another game seemed more probable that it was going to be a 12 o’clock game. So that impacted the decision, and when Pat came in, I asked him and he thought the same thing.”
The result was that for the first time since divisional play began, Ohio State won’t be the opponent for the annual White Out game at Beaver Stadium in an even year. Instead, the Nittany Lions picked Minnesota, playing the White Out against a Big Ten West member for the first time since 2009.
“Our Whiteout game has typically been a night game with fireworks, white T-shirts and clothing,” Franklin said. “On the backdrop of a black sky, that’s pretty special.”
It’s also something that needs the right weather conditions to work, which is why Penn State opted to keep the game no later than October. With the average temperature in November in University Park dropping to 33 degrees, scheduling the game too late in the year could negatively affect fans’ enjoyment of what’s become a beloved tradition.
“In the Big Ten as it currently sits, we can’t have night games after a certain point in the schedule,” Franklin said. “Also, if you want all the fans to dress up in white, that becomes more difficult later in the season when people want to wear their hunting gear to try to stay warm.”
As it stands, Minnesota might very well be the only game Penn State plays at home that kicks off at night in 2022. The game with Ohio State appears to have a 50-50 shot of being the Big Ten’s noon game of the week along with Michigan-Michigan State, while games against Maryland and Michigan State will come too late to be played at night.
The move means that for the second year in a row, neither Ohio State nor Michigan will be the opponent for the White Out game. The Nittany Lions had rotated the game between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines ever since the Big Ten went to East and West Divisions, but Franklin said having a name opponent wasn’t a requirement even before the survey.
“That might have caught people off guard because the way the schedule fell up to that point, it had rotated between two opponents,” Franklin said. “So it kind of set up an expectation, but that’s really just kind of how it played out.”
In Minnesota, the Nittany Lions get a night game, a trophy game and an opponent that’s excited for the opportunity to play in this contest. Not only is there a storyline of ex-Penn State assistant coach Kirk Ciarrocca returning to Beaver Stadium, but this is a game that Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck hoped would happen when he saw the Big Ten schedule.
“Heather and I were talking when the schedule came out, we actually said how cool would it be to one, go to Penn State, but two, be in the White Out game,” Fleck said. “You get to experience that but then you also get to coach in that, and you dream of things like that.
“I know our players will be excited, and we’ve got a lot of games to play until then, but that’s something everyone will be excited about.”