Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 2, 2016
Friday night football is coming to the Big Ten.
Beginning in 2017, the Big Ten will play six prime-time games on Fridays, likely to be televised by an ESPN channel, FOX, or FS1. None are slated to be BTN. The games will be limited to September and October. And the league is committed to six Friday games for the next six seasons as it begins a new television contract.
"We have thought a lot about this," Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner said. "(The six Friday night games) represent about six percent of the total home games that we will have in any year over the next six years. We think it is a great opportunity for significant exposure and more favorable use of national platforms for football."
In recent years, the conference has had some season-opening games on Friday nights. In fact, Michigan State has opened each of the last six seasons on a Friday. The Spartans played host to Furman on Friday, Sept. 2 this season. But now, the Big Ten is taking a full plunge into Friday nights.
Friday night football has become more prevalent in recent years, as the ACC and Pac-12 have been Power Five conferences that have embraced it. This season alone there will be 65 Friday night games across the country, including the likes of Louisville at Syracuse, Stanford at Washington, USC at Utah and Oregon at Cal.
"We saw the need to have more windows because there are more games being televised nationally each week," said Rudner. "If you look at other conferences like the Pac-12 and the ACC and even the Ivy League, they have had a clear presence on Friday night. In fact, over the last three years, each of those conferences has had double-digit games on Friday nights."
Friday nights, though, long have been considered sacrosanct, the hallowed ground of high school football. Many felt the prep tradition of "Friday Night Lights" shouldn't be impeded upon. But the Big Ten says the high schools within its footprint are in lock-step with the league on the move to Fridays, along with administrators on Big Ten campuses.
"We have studied this and have talked with a lot of people on campuses, to presidents, chancellors and athletic directors who all have approved of this plan moving forward," said Rudner. "We also have had conversations with the executive directors of high school athletic associations across all 11 states. Commissioner Delany has been doing that.
"We recognize that it is important to maintain good relationships with the high school executive directors. We have been in good communication with them, along with our schools. It is likely the Friday night schedule will impact no more than six schools. We don't have the schedule confirmed yet. But for 2017, it would impact up to six."
But how will this impact fans who actually attend games, sometimes driving long distances to watch in person? Friday night flies in the face of the traditional Saturday filled with college football activities.
"Those were important during deliberations," said Rudner. "And the fact we are doing it just six times a year, and two of those six games-at least in 2017-will be on Labor Day Friday, which is an area we have been before. We are really only talking four other games during the season."
Could the Big Ten ever have a Friday night game each week of the season?
"No," said Rudner. "This is a play in September and October. We aren't going to go into November. And we aren't looking to expand beyond six games at this point (through this deal)."
Saturday night prime-time games will continue in the Big Ten and, per usual, will end in early November. Did the Big Ten look at televising games on Thursday nights? Or any other night of the week?
"No, we didn't," said Rudner. "With the NFL moving in on Thursday, our institutions weren't interested in it. And colleges will move further and further away from Thursday because the NFL is taking it over.
"This will expand the exposure," said Rudner. "That is the key here. People have told us for years: Why isn't the Big Ten doing more prime time? So, we are going to do more prime time on national platforms."