Big 10 college football moves to Friday night

After the Big Ten collegiate football conference announced yesterday that teams in the conference would play a handful of games on Friday night next year, high school athletic associations across the region reacted to the news.

From Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director Andy Warner (in the Baltimore Sun):

Friday night high school sports has been a longstanding tradition, and the telecasts of these collegians, and going into the Big Ten now … is really going to challenge and have profound effects on the schools that rely on those gate receipts from those nights, that encourage community involvement and growing the school culture. There’s really nothing like it in our country—a Friday night at one of our high schools.

The Big Ten is one of the largest football conferences in the NCAA, and hundreds of thousands of students attend its schools. Of 18 games the Big Ten plans to play in Prime Time during September and October, 2017, as part of its new TV deal with ESPN and Fox, eight will be on Friday night, including two on the Friday before Labor Day.

The Ohio State University, Columbus, is the largest school in the conference, according to the most recent enrollment count:

  1. Ohio State University, Columbus: 58,322
  2. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul: 51,147
  3. Michigan State University, East Lansing: 50,081
  4. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.: 48,378
  5. Pennsylvania State University, University Park: 47,040
  6. Indiana University, Bloomington: 46,416
  7. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: 45,140
  8. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: 43,625
  9. University of Wisconsin, Madison: 42,598
  10. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.: 39,752
  11. University of Maryland, College Park: 37,610
  12. University of Iowa, Iowa City: 29,970
  13. University of Nebraska, Lincoln: 25,006
  14. Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.: 21,554

From Ohio High School Athletic Association spokesman Tim Stried (quoted in the Columbus Dispatch):

We are disappointed. If feedback had been asked for at some point, we would have expressed we certainly would not have been in favor of that happening.

Every Friday night around Ohio during the regular season there are, on average, 350 high school football games. Not only are those games important for the teams and their fans, for the home teams those ticket proceeds are crucial for their athletic department. So if there are outside influences, such as a Big Ten game on television, that cause fans to stay home instead of going out to their local high school game, then our member schools are not going to be very happy about it.

Friday night games aren’t necessarily an annual occurrence for the Big Ten Conference, according to Alan Beste, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association. The number of Friday night games played by college teams across all collegiate conferences has been increasing of late, though: two years ago, colleges played 53 games on Fridays during the regular season, compared to 65 this year. Mr Beste had this to say:

Almost certainly Friday night Hawkeye football games will have a negative impact on high school football games across the state. This negative impact would not only be in terms of attendance, but also coverage by radio stations, print media and television highlights. Due to increased traffic, schools around the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas would potentially be impacted more than those farther from Iowa City. Even a nationally televised away game would have a negative impact on high school programs by dividing the fan base.

While the decision to play Big Ten Conference football on Friday nights may be in the best interest of the Big Ten Conference and its member schools, we do not believe it is in the best interests of high school football across the State of Iowa. That being stated, we will reach out to The University of Iowa in the hopes we can work together to mitigate the damage this decision by the Big Ten Conference will have on high school football in Iowa. I am confident the Athletic Association and those who support Iowa high school football will find ways to keep it popular and relevant given this new challenge.

So, the issue isn’t necessarily with the University of Iowa, the University of Maryland, or any of the Big Ten schools, just with the Big Ten’s decision and its way of making the decision without consulting the high school associations. But the colleges themselves are fully aware of what this change could mean.

The University of Michigan has said it will not play any Friday night games, home or away. Penn State said it will not play Friday home games out of respect for businesses in its community and high school football in Pennsylvania.

Like Michigan and Indiana, Illinois has two Big Ten teams: Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

“We may not necessarily agree with the philosophy behind the Big Ten’s decision, but we also understand that this was likely inevitable in the current college football landscape,” said Illinois High School Association executive director Craig Anderson.

“We know that the Big Ten is sensitive to the impact this decision will have on high school football in Illinois, and throughout the Big Ten footprint, and expect that will be reflected in their Friday scheduling.

“High school football is a fabric of communities throughout Illinois, and just as the game has endured tribulations throughout the years, it will continue to thrive thanks to the commitment of the players, coaches, parents and fans who support high school football under the Friday night lights each fall.”

But still, most leaders in the high school athletics domain expressed disappointment with the move, which has placed revenue from TV stations above the advancement of education and athletics at the high school level. The change jeopardizes, at least a little, the supply of brainpower and athleticism these great universities in the Big Ten can expect in the future.

“We are saddened by this decision. We had hoped that the Big Ten Conference would stay above this. We think this cheapens the Big Ten brand,” Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director John E “Jack” Roberts said in a statement. “Fans won’t like this. Recruits won’t like this. And high school football coaches won’t like this.

“We are grateful that Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are trying to minimize the effects of this decision by the Big Ten. But overall, this is just the latest step by major college athletics in the pursuit of cash that is just crushing high school sports.”

The Indiana High School Athletic Association was a little more optimistic about the motives behind the change.

“The IHSAA believes that the most recent decision of the Big Ten Conference to play a limited number games on Friday nights represents a positive opportunity to collectively cross promote our football programs and continue to grow this great sport in our state,” said IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox. “I have the utmost respect for both [Indiana University athletic director] Fred Glass and [Purdue athletic director] Mike Bobinski, and I’m confident, through their leadership, both the collegiate and high school games will benefit from this fresh thinking.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.