Liberty is scheduled to play its first game as a Football Bowl Subdivision member at 6 p.m. Saturday at home against Old Dominion, but the Flames already have secured two important elements prior to playing in college football’s top tier.
The program announced over the summer it reached an agreement as a secondary bowl tie-in with the Cure Bowl, which allows LU to participate if it is bowl eligible and the Sun Belt Conference and American Athletic Conference do not have enough teams to fill those slots.
Now the Flames have a television home for the foreseeable future.
Liberty announced Monday it reached a multi-year agreement on exclusive media rights to the Flames’ home football games with ESPN. LU did not announce the exact length or the financial compensation of the agreement.
“The relationship with ESPN is exclusive, so we anticipate all six of our games this year to be broadcast on ESPN3,” Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said Tuesday. “We are right now trying to work to get some local opportunities for the road games, but nothing has been finalized at this point in time.”
All six of Liberty’s home games this season will be broadcasted online on ESPN3, including Saturday’s season opener against ODU. Home games previously had been broadcasted on local station WFFP when the football games were produced and distributed by Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN), but McCaw said ESPN’s exclusive rights will prohibit the games from being televised on the local stations.
McCaw added he did not envision any games this season to be on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, but he is hopeful the 2019 opener against Syracuse could be selected for one of the network’s premier channels.
LFSN will still produce and utilize its broadcast team for each home game.
Williams Stadium expansion update
McCaw addressed the expansion of Williams Stadium and said “the project will be game ready” for Saturday.
“The only part of the project that will not be complete will be the east side press box. That won’t be ready until approximately October,” McCaw said, “but everything else will be ready to go, and we’re really eager to fill the stadium up and have a great atmosphere.”
The seating capacity increased from 19,000 to 25,000 with the addition of an upper deck on the east grandstands. All general admission seating has moved to the east grandstands.
“That second deck on the east side creates a great stadium atmosphere, and we’re excited about what that will do,” McCaw said.
McCaw said the suites and club seats have both sold out, marking the first time in program history the club seats have sold out. He added season ticket sales are 52 percent ahead of where they were at this time last year.
Liberty will employ additional security measures at Williams Stadium this season. Gates will open two hours before kickoff, and fans will be required to pass through metal detectors that will be spaced out among the seven points of entrance.
In addition, there will be no on-field access for families and fans after games.
Gandy-Golden a go for ODU
Junior wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden did not practice in the first two weeks of training camp after suffering a right wrist injury during a summer car accident. He was limited to catching with one hand during drills while he wore a hard cast.
He joined the team in practices last week and participated in the final scrimmage wearing a custom-made splint that kept his wrist from moving too far forward and too far backward.
Flames coach Turner Gill said Gandy-Golden will play in Saturday’s opener. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver led the team with 69 catches, 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“Gandy-Golden has done a good job. He’s been practicing and having no issues or concern about him playing and getting plenty of reps,” Gill said. “We’re not going to limit him. … I think he’s ready to go. I don’t have any hesitation.”
Gill did not list any other injuries, noting he will wait until later this week to release any information about players who may not play.
Gandy-Golden said during the team’s media day prior to preseason camp he would be ready to go against ODU, and all signs point to him playing Saturday.
“My wrist is feeling OK. It’s feeling real good right now,” Gandy-Golden said, “but we’ll just have to see when game time comes.”