The Big Ten’s Friday night football plan is not going well for them. The conference announced the addition of a package of six Friday night games last fall, but even at that time, Michigan and Penn State said they would not take part. They then moved two games from Friday to Saturday in April after Northwestern complained, but moved another out-of-conference game (Illinois at South Florida), leaving them with five Friday games (and only two as conference matchups).
They’ve faced major opposition from high school coaches, including executives from seven states who met with Big Ten officials in May. And now, it looks like they’ve lost another big school for future Friday night games. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith (seen above introducing Urban Meyer (had previously said they’d host one occasionally (albeit not in 2017), but has now changed his tune, according to Todd Jones of The Columbus Dispatch:
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said then that the Buckeyes would host a Friday night game once every three years. Now, OSU’s stance is softening.
“We don’t think Ohio State is a program that will ultimately play on Friday night,” Smith said. “We’re more valuable on a Saturday for our television partners. We don’t need to play on a Friday night.”
So will the Buckeyes ever play a Friday game?
“I don’t anticipate it,” Smith said. “If you’re running a network, would you put us on Friday night or Saturday? … Friday night is not our world.”
An interesting element in that article is that despite all the opposition from high school coaches and associations (many of which are quoted there), Smith still supports Friday night games for the Big Ten overall. He stands by his vote for the plan:
Still, Ohio State remains in favor of Big Ten games being played on Fridays despite opposition from the OHSAA and many high school and college coaches. Smith said the conference’s 14 members unanimously approved the idea when initially polled.
″(OSU’s support) really wasn’t for us as it was for others in our league,” Smith said. “I supported that, and I still support that. I’m disappointed that others who voted for it have come out publicly against it. But we all voted for it. I’m going to stand behind our vote. That’s for the betterment of the league.”
The idea behind Friday games is boosting television exposure for less-prominent schools, and it makes some sense from that standpoint and probably brings in some TV revenue, which is why Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been so blasé in his response to the opposition he’s received. It’s not like the Big Ten is the only conference to play apart from Saturdays, either; the Pac-12, ACC, and Big 12 all have some Friday night games, the SEC has occasional Thursday night ones, and the Group of Five conferences have lots of midweek games. But there’s strong high school opposition to these games in Big Ten territory, plus strong opposition from fans who actually attend the games, and that pushback seems likely to continue. It’s notable that Delany has said he expects lower numbers of Friday night games in future years; two per year beyond Labor Day weekend (as compared to the three this year).
Ohio State backing off their initial stance here is also notable, as it further degrades the potential quality of the Friday night product. With Michigan and Penn State saying from the get-go they wouldn’t take part, that’s two prominent schools with large fanbases gone. Here’s the five games this year:
- Washington at Rutgers on Sept. 1
- Utah State at Wisconsin on Sept. 1
- Ohio at Purdue on Sept. 8
- Illinois at South Florida on Sept. 15
- Nebraska at Illinois on Sept. 29
So, the Big Ten schools involved this year are Illinois (twice), Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers. Of those, Nebraska and Wisconsin are the major TV draws, and they’re also schools where there’s been major pushback to this; they may not continue with this approach in future years. Also, two of those games took part on Labor Day weekend, which is less of an imposition than a Friday game during the year. It’s definitely possible that the Big Ten can keep getting Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers to play an occasional Friday game, but there’s already been some blowback in those states too, and they may also decide it’s not worth it. But beyond that, Ohio State’s exit further narrows the pool of schools willing to play Friday, and also reduces the chances of Friday being seen as a destination for Big Ten football. At the moment, it’s a destination only for a few schools, and not the ones that most are tuning in to watch.