IOWA CITY, Iowa – Friday night is meant for lots of things, but not Hawkeye football, or any Big Ten football for that matter.
Friday night should belong to the high schools exclusively, and that was the case for many years until the power and influence of television became too much to withstand.
The Big Ten Conference finally caved on Wednesday as news broke that the conference’s new television agreements with ESPN, ABC and Fox would include a package of six prime-time Friday games starting in 2017.
Penn State quickly responded by informing the Big Ten that it would not host football games on a Friday night. The school said it was receptive to an occasional day game on the day after Thanksgiving, but listed a variety of reasons why it was against playing on Friday night.
“We know how important Friday night high school football is to hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth,” Penn State said in its release.
Iowa said in a statement that it would consider playing on Friday nights, but with conditions.
“The Big Ten, like many other conferences, will begin hosting a limited number of Friday football games,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement. “At Iowa, we have been playing Nebraska on the Friday following Thanksgiving. That game is scheduled to continue. We also have agreed that we would be willing to occasionally host a Friday night game surrounding Labor Day weekend.”
Penn State hasn’t given us too many reasons to be proud of its values in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal. But this is an exception. The decision makers in Happy Valley deserve praise for having their priorities in the right order in this case.
Likewise for Michigan, which is saying no to all Friday night games, home and away.
Iowa’s reluctance to schedule Friday night games is also a good sign.
“We truly understand and appreciate the significance surrounding high school football in the state of Iowa,” Barta said. “Similar to football Saturdays in Iowa City, it is a wonderful opportunity that brings fans together to rally around their school.”
The Big Ten wants to expand its coverage to Friday nights in order to gain more exposure and to generate more revenue.
But when is enough truly enough?
The Big Ten already is knee deep in television revenue to the point where each of its 14 schools are rewarded handsomely on an annual basis.
Just because many other conferences already play on Friday nights, including the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Mountain West, still doesn’t make it right.
This decision makes the Big Ten seem selfish and greedy.
Some might argue that traditions change over time and that it's too old fashioned antiquated to still think that Friday night belongs exclusively to the high schools.
In this case, being old-fashioned is the honorable thing to do, because sometimes being right has more to do with being kind and unselfish than being shrewd and opportunistic in business.
The Big Ten earned respect for refusing to play on Friday nights. The conference was praised for not wanting to interfere with or disrupt the Friday night high school football experience.
But now it seems the desire to grow its product and to stuff its pockets has overcome the Big Ten’s concern about hurting high school football.
And that’s a shame because high school football on Friday night is as American as college football on Saturday.
Doreen Ash, wife of Rutgers football coach and Drake graduate Chris Ash, ripped the decision on Twitter, writing:
“This is ridiculous. As a (high school) parent I will have to choose between my son’s game or husband’s game. There will be no recruits and limited fans.”
Playing on Friday nights would make it impossible for recruits to attend games. It also would cause major issues with traffic at places such as Iowa where many of the hospital employees park in spots used by fans for games on Saturday.
It is likely that some Big Ten schools would benefit from playing on Friday nights. But that still wouldn’t make it right because the high schools ultimately would suffer.
Imagine West High hosting a high school football game on the same Friday night as the Iowa Hawkeyes, barely one mile to the east. Both games likely would lose fans because of the scheduling conflict.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has built the conference into a financial power by making sound and aggressive business decisions. Playing football on Friday nights could prove to be another wise move from a business standpoint.
But that still wouldn’t justify doing it.
Some things like high school football deserve to be left alone because they play such an important role in our lives. Friday night should be its time to shine on center stage without having to compete against the glitz and glamour of major college football.
So please, Mr. Delany, reconsider.