September 15, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Emily Younker isn't getting married until next year but she's already made sure the date doesn't conflict with college football and sent one invitation: To Big Al, the elephant mascot of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.

College football poses a huge dilemma for brides and grooms in states like Alabama where college football reigns supreme: Get married on a Saturday, when friends and relatives might pick football over the ceremony, or watch the game?

Or, perhaps, do both?

From the start of the season in late August until early December, when conference championships are played, some couples avoid Saturday nuptials altogether to ensure friends and relatives will attend rather than skip out for college football. After all, it's tough to sit quietly in a pew when 101,000 fans are screaming for your team in a stadium a few miles away.

Many couples take the risk and have TVs at the reception to keep guests happy, and it's not unheard of to see a groomsman in a tuxedo wearing an earbud as he listens to a game on his smartphone. But the choicest fall wedding date isn't when the leaves are turning colors, planners say, it's when your team has an open Saturday on the schedule.

For Younker, an Alabama fan like her fiance, the answer was simple: Wed Brandon Cutts on June 20, 2015, before football begins. That way, guests won't have to decide whether to attend a game or the wedding; she won't have to miss a game to get married; and a student dressed as Big Al - who will appear at a wedding in his Crimson Jersey for a $400 fee - can appear at the wedding for photos.

And, as a bonus, Younker won't have to cope with the in-season passions of her mom's family, who are Tennessee fans; her dad's family, which pulls for South Carolina; and her brother, who attends Auburn.

''We decided to just do it during the summer and incorporate football into it,'' said Younker, a second-grade teacher in Montgomery. ''I'd rather deal with the heat than with football schedules.''

While professional football is huge in the North and Midwest, college football is the biggest game in town across the South, in Texas and in Plains states like Oklahoma and Nebraska. In the fall, life revolves around the college schedule as fans tailgate outside stadiums on Saturday or have game-watching parties in homes and bars.

With the average wedding costing nearly $30,000 last year according to a survey by XO Group Inc., which operates the wedding website TheKnot.com, couples aren't willing to risk having leftover food and drinks should guest decide to watch college football rather than attend the ceremony.

In Dallas, longtime wedding planner Micki Novak said fall weddings often are planned around the Texas and Southern Methodist football schedules, but she's also booked the Horned Frog mascot of Texas Christian to appear at couple of receptions.

During the fall, Novak heads off one potential problem during wedding rehearsals by telling groomsmen not to watch or listen to the game on their smartphone during the ceremony. But what about a couple who insists on getting married on the Saturday of the Texas-Oklahoma game?

''If you are silly enough to plan a wedding on that weekend you are going to run into transportation problems and all sorts of other things,'' said Novak, executive director of the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners.

Professional wedding planner Kavonda L. Rogers of Montgomery said ''World War III'' nearly broke out a few years ago when a bride settled on a wedding date not realizing it was the same day as the South's oldest football rivalry game, Auburn-Georgia.

''It was intense. People were saying, `No, you have to move the wedding. You can't do this,''' said Rogers.

The solution: Rogers arranged for a big-screen television to be turned on in a room right off the reception area. At game time, most of the men left the reception to huddle around the TV.

Boston wedding planner Alexis Eliopoulos O'Mara said the only time she worries about a college football conflict is when a couple might want to get married at Boston College on a game day. Even then, it's not much of a concern because there are so many other factors to consider in a major city.

''College football isn't a big deal,'' said O'Mara, of Unique Weddings by Alexis. ''People are much more into pro football up here, and they don't build campuses around football stadiums like they do in the South.''

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Follow AP writer Jay Reeves at https://twitter.com/Jay-Reeves

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