Friday night B1G football will be great — but just for this season
Can you imagine if Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren had to break the news to Michigan and Ohio State that they would each be playing a game on a Friday night?
“Yes, Coach Harbaugh and Coach Day, we’re back! But … you have to play on a few Friday nights.”
That would’ve been awkward because normally, sticking a Big Ten team on a Friday night would be met with some hostility. That’s probably why the Big Ten office didn’t put Ohio State and Michigan on a Friday night with its most recent schedule. I think Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Day are frustrated enough with Warren, and there’s no use upsetting them even more.
That said, there are some great Friday games this season, like Iowa at Minnesota on Nov. 13 and Nebraska at Iowa on Black Friday. Illinois at Wisconsin, which kicks off the B1G season this Friday, will be entertaining. Minnesota plays 3 of its 8 games on Friday night, and that will be a great chance for Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck to get some airtime (though he’ll get plenty this week with College GameDay in town for the Michigan game).
Friday night football has been a polarizing topic in the Big Ten in recent years, but this year, there should be no controversy — it’s going to be awesome.
The Big Ten has been on the sidelines for nearly 2 months while the ACC and Big 12 have been playing, and for about a month of the SEC season. The B1G badly needs this extra exposure, and they’ll get it thanks 5 Friday night games. Those Friday night games won’t get lost in the shuffle of a busy college football Saturday.
The normal drawbacks of Friday night games — conflicts with high school football and lower attendance — don’t apply in 2020. High school football is almost over already, and coaches have probably done more scouting than usual this season anyways without playing in September and most of October. Normally, these teams like to host recruits at their games, which obviously can’t happen on a Friday night, but that won’t matter this year either since there is a recruiting dead period. There also aren’t any attendance issues to worry about with Friday night games since fans aren’t allowed at games this season. It may be a little cold, but if that’s the only objection, it’s worth the trade-off.
That said, let’s hope the league minimizes the Friday games in the future. Starting in 2017, it was slated to have 6 per season for 6 years, though it only had 3 last season. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern were outspoken when the initial decision was made in 2016, and they’re absolutely correct in objecting to it.
The league would be wise to not get too excited if the Friday night games get strong ratings or trend on Twitter. When life returns to normal, the Big Ten should do its best to revert to a more traditional schedule. Labor Day Weekend and Black Friday are fine because those are holiday weekends anyway, but hopefully, it will stop there.
High school football on Friday night is sacred in the Midwest, which is why so many people were upset that the Big Ten would interfere with that for some extra money. The Big Ten knows this, which is why it’s infuriating that they did it in the first place.
The concept of weeknight football is one that is lauded by national media and gamblers but rarely by anyone actually associated with the team or who roots for that team. That’s because weeknight football rarely feels like college football. The atmosphere is terrible because fans don’t show up; it’s usually cold and people can’t always make the time to attend a 3 1/2 hour football game after working all day. Bars, restaurants and other community establishments who depend on home football games for revenue lose out on a Friday night compared with a Saturday. That’s why individual universities were against the Big Ten decision as they tried to support their communities who would be negatively impacted by having a game on a Friday night.
But it’s all about the money that these leagues get from their TV partners. Unfortunately, that won’t change anytime soon. All of my friends who cheer for MAC teams know this.
This year, Friday night is fair game. The Big Ten needs the money, and frankly, we’ll take football any way we can get it. No complaints here.
So let’s enjoy every second of Wisconsin and Illinois this Friday while hoping the Big Ten eventually phases these sorts of games out of its schedule.