Conference to play Friday night games next season
New schedule ‘extremely disappointing’ to MPSSAA executive director Sparks
The Big Ten Conference unveiled a plan Wednesday to play prime-time football games Friday nights beginning in 2017.
The games that will be chosen for next season will be announced as soon as next week.
According to Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner, the league will have 18 prime-time games next season, with six on Fridays and the remaining 10 on Saturdays.
The schedule is part of new agreements the Big Ten has with ESPN/ABC and Fox, which together currently air six primetime games each season.
“We wanted to be able to create more prime-time exposure in our conference for more programs,” Rudner said Wednesday. “We wanted to create a new opportunity for significant exposure and a more creative use of our national platforms for Big Ten football.”
Penn State announced that it wouldn’t play at home on a Friday night, and commissioner Jim Delany said Michigan has not agreed to play on a Friday night. Ohio State is willing to host once every three years but only during the school’s fall break, while Nebraska will host once every three years with no conditions. Iowa and Michigan State want to host only on Labor Day weekend.
According to Rudner, the number of Friday night college games is on the upswing, from 53 in 2014 to 65 this season. The move to Fridays affects about 6 percent of the 95 football games played in the Big Ten next season and for the subsequent five, and Rudner added that there are no plans to play even earlier in the week. Until now, the league has resisted playing on weeknights except for the opening week of the season.
Rudner said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany contacted high school football commissions in the 11 states where the Big Ten schools are located about the decision.
“All things considered,” Delany said, “we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water.”
Andy Warner, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said Delany called him Wednesday morning to inform him of the scheduling change, but he was not consulted beforehand.
A former Hereford student-athlete and Maryland graduate who succeeded longtime MPSSAA executive director Ned
Sparks in August 2015, Warner called the Big Ten’s Friday night scheduling an “extremely disappointing” challenge to high schools in Maryland and across the league’s geographic footprint.
“Friday night high school sports has been a long-standing 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,” Warner told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. “There’s really nothing like it in our country — a Friday night at one of our high schools.”
Friday nights have been the ideal showcases for student events, Warner said. Moving a fall football game, school play or cheerleading competition to Thursday, for instance, would mean challenging the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” games and ESPN’s Thursday night college schedule the night before the typical end of the school week.
“You would think that we’d be all working toward a common goal of student participation, whether it’s collegian student-athletes or high school student-athletes,” Warner said.
He added: “Being a part of the conversation is always nice, but you have to be asked to be part of the conversation.”