Dienhart: Big Ten Friday Night Lights dim

Dienhart: Big Ten Friday Night Lights dim

When the Big Ten announced last fall that it would play some Friday night football games in 2017, it raised the eyebrows of some who didn’t think it was right to encroach on the traditional turf of high school football. Now, the league is scaling back on Fridays, as Northwestern has flipped its two Friday night games to Saturdays.

Friday nights are considered sacrosanct in the fall, the province of high school. But the Big Ten’s new TV deals with ESPN/ABC and FOX set to begin in 2017 included some prime-time Friday night games.

“All things considered,” said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany last fall, “we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water.”

In addition to some high school athletic associations, some Big Ten schools were against playing on Fridays from the start, too, led by Penn State and Michigan.

“We fully support the Big Ten’s scheduling decisions as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement at the time. “With our large fan base, Michigan fans and alumni travel significant distances to attend games, making Saturdays our preferred day for all football games.”

Now, the Big Ten’s recent annual prospectus shows that Northwestern had its two Friday night games moved back to Saturday. NU was slated to play at Maryland on Oct. 13 and vs. Michigan State on Oct. 27.

But five Friday night games remain, not including the annual Iowa-Nebraska game on Black Friday:

  • 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

Non-power five schools typically have played on weeknights, as the exposure can be beneficial to teams in leagues like the MAC and Sun Belt. But the Big Ten? It already has plenty of exposure and notoriety. And Friday nights typically aren’t considered “good TV nights” by those in the industry, as most people are out of their house. So, any move to Fridays has to be driven by money. It will be interesting to see if the Big Ten will continue to embrace Friday nights at any level beyond 2017.

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