The conference officially feigns concern about its decision to infringe on Friday nights, the traditional domain of prep football. We shouldn’t be surprised it disregards tradition. The Big Ten hasn't been limited to an actual 10 schools in years.
The Big Ten said in a news release that it “appreciates the significance of high school football within the region and has worked to minimize the impact of this initiative by limiting the number of Friday night games.”
You want to minimize the impact? Don’t play on Friday night. Otherwise, spare us the “appreciation” for high school football Fridays.
“They have a captive audience on almost every other day of the week, especially Saturday,” Garrett football coach Chris DePew said. “I think they should leave Friday alone and leave it to us.”
The schedule of games the Big Ten released when it starts playing Friday night games in 2017 looks fairly lame. The best game is probably Michigan State at Northwestern. How many crossover fans are there between Northwestern and prep football? Tough to say. Still, there will be some Purdue fans who will attend a Friday night game against the Mid-American Conference’s Ohio instead of a local high school game.
“Overall, these games represent approximately six percent of Big Ten games annually, and no institution will host more than one game in any given year,” the Big Ten stated. “Friday night games will also be announced at least 10 months in advance to provide all parties adequate time to prepare.”
The Big Ten will play six Friday night games per year for the next six years. Particularly for cities from the host schools – Purdue this season, Indiana in the future – Indiana prep games will be impacted.
If this venture is successful, if it makes enough money for the Big Ten schools, logic says the league will increase, rather than reduce, the number of games on Friday night down the road. Other college conferences already play on Fridays.
Former Snider coach Russ Isaacs said he could argue both sides of the issue. He believes those invested heavily in prep football will remain committed to the game, but it would also be difficult for most Big Ten schools to turn down additional income. Those on the periphery of high school football might be drawn to college games, in person or on television, rather than a high school game, he said.
“Being a traditionalist, I love the fact Friday nights are for high school and Saturdays are for college,” Isaacs said. “Money has perverted everything. We play the World Series in November.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he believes “Friday is for high school games” and Michigan has said it is not interested in playing Friday night games. But Michigan’s opposition is based primarily upon the logistics of staging a Friday night fans, and their fans being able to attend the game. It's not a principled stance in support of the high school game. Michigan said the school “fully supports the Big Ten’s scheduling decisions, as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights.”
DePew, whose Garrett Railroaders play in the Class 3A regional Friday, said he enjoys college football when it airs on other days, such as Tuesdays or Thursdays.
But the move to Friday is a step too far.
“Friday is our day and they’re just doing this to make their money,” DePew said. “It’s just kind of sad they would start this. I hope it’s not just a slippery slope where they said ‘limited games’ but that changes.”
IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox came out in support of the move in an interview with the Indianapolis Star.
"I think this is also a great opportunity for our organizations to work together to cross-promote a sport that has been under attack," Cox said. "Additionally, this could serve as an opening for a collegiate conference enjoying great annual revenues to assist high schools in our states to augment potential losses at the local level."
Concordia Lutheran athletic director Dean Doerffler heard Cox’s statements, but isn’t sold on the idea.
“If it’s a good thing, I’d like to know why it’s a good thing, other than money,” Doerffler said. “They’re going to do it. I don't like it, but if it’s a good thing to do, give me the ‘why.’ ”
The “why” in college and professional sports is almost always “because of the money.”
The Big Ten would never play games on Friday night if it expected to lose money or break even. This is an opportunity for more revenue and if it produces more revenue, I’d be willing to bet there’s no cap on only six games the next time the contracts roll around.
“If I had my way, I would keep Friday nights sacred to high school football,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman said. “I think people need to understand we’re still the lifeblood for (college football). The popularity of footall starts at youth and works its way up.”
As far as I can tell, the Big Ten did not take a poll of high school coaches before making its decision.
“I hope this doesn’t open the door to more games on Friday,” Doerffler said.
Remember when the NFL experimented with Thursday night games?
Once the door opens, there’s no closing it. The Big Ten knew that moving into Friday night would step on some high school games and their fans. Its decision shows how much it cares.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.