Folks at the Big Ten must be asleep on the job, their dreams filled with dollar signs whirling like a slot machine. Administrators clearly aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in real life, which should jolt them awake in a cold sweat.
The NFL’s TV ratings are cratering. Saturation coverage has led to viewer apathy. Overexposure has created indifference. More than enough has become too much.
So what do geniuses at the Big Ten decide? That NOW is the perfect time to expand the TV contract and play six football games per season on Fridays. With its new deal, announced last week, the Big Ten meets a non-existent demand and stomps on high school football.
Once-sacred “Friday Night Lights” were off-limits for decades, but increasingly have ceded territory to intercollegiate competition. There were 53 college games on that night in 2014. There are 65 scheduled for this year.
First it was smaller leagues such as the Mid-American, Sun Belt and Conference West. With fewer chances to be seen by large audiences, those conferences willingly served as programming fodder on a night synonymous with prep football. Excluded from most viewing windows on Saturdays, FCS schools don’t have a better option to get in front of viewers.
But the Big Ten isn’t hurting for eyeballs. It’s just falling in line with other greedy Power Five conferences encroaching on TGIF (only the SEC has abstained, making it truly holier-than-thou).
High school football hasn’t ground to a halt in other places and it surely won’t cease in the Midwest.
However, just like the NFL’s ill-conceived assault on our Thursday nights, the Big Ten money grab on Friday is totally unnecessary. It’s a bad look, too.
High school football typically is the main source of revenue for other prep sports. It’s the athletic lifeblood at many schools, similar to football’s role on college campuses. When attendance and concession sales are down for prep football, every program suffers, not to mention the sense of community spirit.
Oh well, right? Consider it a lesson to teach youngsters what’s really important in life.
“We battled for a long time to try to be respectful, obviously, for high school football,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Columbus Dispatch. “But the reality is with what we need for our television partners and what we need for our revenue stream, we needed to consider some different options.”
Television partners and revenue streams have become sports’ irresistible force and unmovable object. They killed day games in the World Series and destroyed football-free Thursdays. In college, they run roughshod over student-athletes’ academic well-being. Now the treacherous effects will reverberate in more cities and towns, courtesy of the Big Ten.
“Friday nights belong to HS kids, local communities, and HS football,” the Illinois High School Football Association tweeted after the announcement. “A little extra $ isn’t more important than what HS football provides.”
“We had hoped that the Big Ten Conference would stay above this,” Michigan High School Athletic Association head John Roberts told ESPN. “We think this cheapens the Big Ten brand. Fans won’t like this. Recruits won’t like this. And high school football coaches won’t like this.”
The latter group has an ally in one of the nation’s most prominent coaches. “I say Saturday,” Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh said last week during a radio appearance. “It’s a Saturday game. I’m for traditional Saturdays. Friday night is for high school football.”
Michigan AD Warde Manuel said the Wolverines do not plan to play in any Friday games. Penn State announced that it won’t host a game on that night. Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers don’t want to host except on Labor Day weekend.
Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue say they have no problem hosting games on the last day of the work week. Imagine that.
Boilermakers spokesman Matthew Rector told the Associated Press his school is pumped: “If we can get our product out there on national television when all eyes are on us, that’s great for Purdue.”
But not-so-great for football fans. The Boilermakers are 9-36 since 2013.
Purdue is the type of team that’s never selected for regular showcase windows … so it’ll probably become a Friday-night staple until the deal expires in 2022. Thanks a lot, Big Ten!
“We wanted to be able to create more prime-time exposure in our conference for more programs,” associate commissioner Mark Rudner told The Baltimore Sun. “We look at the landscape. There’s so much exposure, so many games being televised. We wanted to create a new opportunity for significant exposure and a more creative use of our national platforms for Big Ten football.”
There’s nothing creative about plopping a package of often-undesirable games on an innocent weeknight. The Big Ten obviously isn’t paying attention to what’s happening to pro football.
Worse, the conference clearly doesn’t care about inflicting damage on high school football.
That’s no way to treat your feeder system. And it’s no treat for your fans, either.