When the Big Ten announced earlier this month that it would schedule six Friday-night games per season, feedback was almost unanimously negative from within the conference. Michigan announced it won’t participate and other schools said they won’t host games, afraid that, among other things, the Friday-night contests will cause thousands of fans to swarm campus while students are in class. Meanwhile, high school football associations across the Midwest are offended that the Big Ten is encroaching on their sacred time-slot.
“It’s created a strong reaction,” he said last night during the Shirley Povich Symposium at the Univ. of Maryland. “Quite honestly, this was not a financial consideration. What we’re trying to do is find a window for good games — maybe not the best games — and putting them on national platforms.”
ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland grad, was on the panel and asked Delany, “If (Michigan coach Jim) Harbaugh says that he’s just not going to do it, does that mean that Maryland has to play every Friday because Michigan won’t?”
Delany responded, “Seven institutions said they would do a home-and-away. We had six institutions that said they’d be happy to do it away and occasionally at home. Each institution had the prerogative.”
It’s a wee bit disingenuous for Delany to say this isn’t a financial consideration when the principle reason for putting “good games” on “national platforms” is financial. Per SBD, the Big Ten’s television partners, ESPN and Fox, will choose games for the Friday-night slots that otherwise would have been scheduled for Saturday at noon. Clearly, the networks think these games will draw more viewers on Friday nights, when few if any college football games are on than on Saturday afternoons when there are two dozen games going on at any given time.
Basically, the question of whether the Big Ten should play games on Friday nights comes down to TV viewership on one hand and respect for academics, tradition and fan convenience on the other. Just like the decision of whether to expand the Big Ten to the East Coast came down to TV viewership on one hand and attention to athletes’ over-booked schedules on the other.
The lesson is, TV viewership always wins.