Big Ten conference, high schools discuss conflicts with Friday night games

Administrators from a number of high school associations in the Midwest – including MHSAA executive director John E. “Jack” Roberts – met for two hours Monday with the 12 Big Ten athletic directors,

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Head coach Mark Dantonio leads the Spartans onto the field before the first half of play against Furman in the Spartan’s opening game of the 2016 season on Friday.(Photo: Dave Wasinger, Dave Wasinger/Lansing State Journal)Buy Photo

ROSEMONT, Ill. – When the Big Ten announced in November that it would play six games on Friday nights in 2017, it caused a ripple of backlash from high schools across the Midwest.

It also did not sit well with some of the league’s 14 members.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, whose school had two games scheduled for Fridays, managed to convince the conference last month to move them both to Saturday. One of them was the Wildcats’ home game against Michigan State, which was shifted to Saturday, Oct. 28.

“I think part of this has to be the local politics, if you will,” Phillips said Monday at Big Ten headquarters. “What does it feel like in Evanston versus what does it feel like in Lincoln or feels like in Iowa City or Columbus, Ohio. And the more we can allow those schools to locally have influence over what we do on Friday nights, the better off we’ll be.”

Administrators from a number of high school associations in the Midwest met for two hours Monday with the 12 Big Ten athletic directors, who are having their annual meetings at conference headquarters. Phillips said it was vital for the college representatives to hear the high school perspective on the impending Friday night move.

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The Big Ten’s new television agreements with ABC/ESPN and Fox stipulates the conference will play six Friday games per year over the next six seasons. MSU’s only Friday game in 2017 as part of that pact was the since-moved game against Northwestern.

The Spartans are scheduled to host Bowling Green on Saturday, Sept. 2 at Spartan Stadium, which was initially planned for the following week. MSU has opened iots season with a Friday night game over Labor Day weekend for the past six seasons, five of them at home.

MSU athletic director Mark Hollis said moving the opener against Bowling Green requires Big Ten approval to move it to a Friday. Those MSU games, however, have not presented a conflict because Michigan high schools mostly play their games on the Thursday before Labor Day.

Hollis said Monday that the Spartans would only agree to play home games either on the Friday of Labor Day weekend or the day after Thanksgiving. He said playing any other Friday at home “would not be ideal for us.”

“The networks are still going through that process,” Hollis said. “I’m uncertain if our Labor Day (game) is going to be Friday, but it’s obviously been what I would call a very good tradition and would like to see it continue. Just waiting to hear word on that one.”

Northwestern’s road game at Maryland also was moved to Saturday and now will be played Oct. 14. Illinois’ game at South Florida on Sept. 15 and Iowa’s conference game at Nebraska on Nov. 24 got bumped to Fridays with the Wildcats’ moves.

The other Friday games are Washington at Rutgers, and Utah State at Wisconsin on Sept. 1; Ohio at Purdue on Sept. 8; and Nebraska at Illinois on Sept. 29.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman likes the idea of his Illini playing two Friday night games this season.

“Obviously you play at whatever time on a Saturday afternoon, you’re competing with dozens of other games,” Whitman said. “A chance to be on a national platform, I think, is great for our program.”

Hollis said he understands that viewpoint.

“If you remember when we were building our men’s basketball program, it was ‘Anyone, anywhere, anyplace, any time.’ It was to get that exposure,” he said. “We have so many more teams in the Big Ten that trying to find those windows that allow you to get that exposure for the whole league is important. I’m not surprised, because you always want to be on TV, you want to create those windows.

“You understand the challenges with high school but I also think if you have that communication early on it gives the ability to create some pretty special times in those communities and high schools can adapt.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he supported the idea of Friday night football “100%.”

“We have to be creative for our league,” Smith said. “Any time you have change of that nature, of that magnitude, there’s going to be some challenges. You just gotta fight through them.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on WXYT-FM (97.1) the same day that “I’m for traditional Saturdays. Friday is for high school games.” U-M athletic director Warde Manual was available Monday.

Penn State quickly voiced its disapproval for the Big Ten’s decision, issuing a statement that it would only consider hosting a Friday game the day after Thanksgiving. Leaders at Wisconsin and Iowa both also expressed the same two stipulations as MSU.

Phillips cited a number of factors for why it doesn’t work for Northwestern. He added that Purdue has been working with high schools around West Lafayette to move games to Ross-Ade Stadium on the Saturday after the Boilermakers play the Bobcats in September. That, Phillips said, is one way both groups can make things work cooperatively.

“Friday night football is beautiful,” he said, “and no one wants to disrupt that.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free onAppleandAndroiddevices!