Big Ten to include Friday night games beginning in 2017
Big Ten football is coming to Friday nights in 2017 and beyond.
The conference’s new TV contract, which begins next season, will include a package of six Friday night games.
The Friday night games will be limited to September and October and won’t include every team. Schools with huge stadiums, such as Penn State and Ohio State, won’t be asked to host them. And Michigan has declined to participate in Friday night games at home or on the road.
The Big Ten plans to announce the 2017 Friday night schedule within the next four to seven days.
Several assistant coaches in the Big Ten told ESPN that they thought Friday night games would negatively affect recruiting. Friday nights are traditionally high school football nights.
“Friday night games would put the Big Ten in a recruiting disadvantage,” said one Big Ten assistant coach. “No other conference has the game-day atmospheres of this league. Combined with two teams, or whoever is playing, would not have the opportunity of going to recruit on Friday nights, as well [as] to watch prospects play.”
As another assistant said, “It kills us with recruiting. One of the best things about our place is the game-day environment. Those kids won’t be able to experience that, because they will all have their games.”
And another assistant added, “There is [no advantage]. Most, if not all, high school kids play on Friday nights, which means you would lose one game for recruiting.”
Both the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and the Michigan High School Athletic Association expressed disappointment about the decision. The Friday night games will continue through at least 2022, the Big Ten said.
“We had hoped that the Big Ten Conference would stay above this,” MHSAA executive director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “We think this cheapens the Big Ten brand. Fans won’t like this. Recruits won’t like this. And high school football coaches won’t like this.”
Penn State released a statement making it clear that if Delany changes his mind about not asking the school to host a Friday night game, it would decline the request.
Penn State has informed the Big Ten that we will not host football games on a Friday night. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN that the school would be able to host a Friday night game only during its autumn break, which typically occurs the second week of October.
“We don’t have classes on campus that Thursday or Friday, so operationally, it works because we’re not dealing with parking issues or classes or any of those conflicts that a game would get in the way of.”
Ohio State would be open to playing Friday night road games in September.
Michigan State said Wednesday it would agree to host a Friday night game — but only on Labor Day weekend. The Spartans previously have hosted Friday night games on that holiday weekend; but according to the MHSAA, that didn’t conflict with the high school schedule in Michigan, because most of the state’s prep games are played that week on Thursday.
Michigan State has agreed to host one Friday night home game per year provided it is over Labor Day weekend.
Wisconsin also said it is open to hosting games at Camp Randall on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend in selected years, but it has not committed to hosting them at any other time.
Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez said he had “great respect for the tradition and importance of Friday night high school football games in the state of Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.” But he also said it was the “right time to explore additional opportunities for exposure on Friday nights on a limited basis.”
Indiana AD Fred Glass told the Indianapolis Star that the Hoosiers have agreed to play a conference opponent on Friday night once every three years.
Glass told the Star that he and Purdue counterpart Mike Bobinski spoke with the head of the state’s high school athletic association before agreeing to play occasional Friday night games. The Boilermakers also agreed to play on Friday nights. Illinois also says it’s on board with hosting Friday night games.
Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle wrote in an email to The Associated Press, “We will play the schedule assigned to us by the Big Ten.”
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel confirmed in a statement that the Wolverines don’t plan to play at all on Fridays. Manuel said his chief concern was more for fans that would have to make long trips to the games earlier in the week.
“With our large fanbase, Michigan fans and alumni travel significant distances to attend games, making Saturdays our preferred day for all football games,” he said.
The Friday night slate will include three nonconference games and three conference contests. Until now, the league has resisted playing on weeknights, with the exception of the opening week of the season. The Big Ten has no plans to play on Thursday nights, senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner told the Big Ten Network.
ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren, Adam Rittenberg, Dan Murphy and Jesse Temple contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also was used.