I've been trying to see the Big Ten Conference's decision to infringe on Friday night high school football as something more than simply another way to make money.
I'm going to need better glasses.
The Purdue Boilermakers will host Ohio at 8 p.m. Friday, right in Week 4 of prep season, and it still looks as wrong as the day it was announced.
I'll give Purdue credit for showing some concern by opening up Ross-Ade Stadium to a pair of local high school games moving to Saturday (Lafayette Jeff vs. Harrison and West Lafayette vs. Crete-Monee, Ill.). But it's still misguided for college football, and the Big Ten specifically, to push its way onto Friday night.
I know the Big Ten says it's only six games per season for now, and no more than one per school. If it works – i.e. makes money – I have no doubt that number will grow. It'll be like the NFL playing on Thursday. It started with a few games, then expanded, expanded and expanded, with no regard to quality of the games (another topic altogether).
“It's another sign that college football is a lot about making money and it's a business and it's not maybe what it was originally designed to be,” Snider High School football coach Kurt Tippmann said. “Money is driving decisions being made in college football – at the expense of the growth of the game and emphasis of the game at the lower level.”
Tippmann calls himself a traditionalist, and I fall into that category, too. The long-established regimen of a football weekend (high school on Friday, college on Saturday, NFL on Sunday) seemed to be the perfect arrangement.
The popularity of the game, and the money to be made, created NFL Monday Night Football and, in college, just about every other night of football. Schools from conferences such as the Mid-American took to playing on Tuesdays or Thursday or, yes, Fridays because of the TV money as well as the exposure that a broadcast could bring for recruiting.
Do you think Big Ten schools need Friday night? I'm sure they want them. It's impossible to convince me they need them.
"College football has such a good thing going and these games are well-watched," Concordia Lutheran coach Tim Mannigel said. "I feel you're coming close to diluting your product. But I'm confident in saying there are people telling them this is a good thing."
It's not so much that Big Ten football on Friday will immediately damage the high school game. Prep football will remain popular, and the conflict for fans from cities such as Fort Wayne is quite a bit less than those who live in Big Ten football towns. But over time, some of the uniqueness of prep-only Friday nights will be lost.
“Is it going to affect what we do? No,” Tippmann said. “I just think it's a sign that the priorities of college football are clear.”
Tippmann and Mannigel are far from the only football coaches to look critically at the college game treading onto Fridays.
"Personally, I believe Friday night should be a sacred night for high school football," Homestead coach Chad Zolman said. "I'm not upset about it, but I feel this is a pretty special time of life for those kids and a pretty special experience. They can have Thursday and any other night. Give us Friday."
University of Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley has been spending his Saturdays on the sidelines for several decades.
“Friday night, in my mind, is high school football,” Donley said. “But you can't control the almighty dollar.”
Tippmann said he'll be interested to see if the Friday night college games generate the attendance of the usual Saturday games. Low attendance wouldn't necessarily reflect a lack of success for the colleges, since the primary money (and scoreboard to a degree) is TV revenue. But attendance could reveal how much fans are ready to embrace Friday nights. Saturday games allow for tailgating that might not be as possible for out of town college fans on a Friday night.
There are often weeknight games from smaller conferences that draw smaller crowds. It's obvious to the home viewer.
Television money ranks as the leading reason for the move, and nothing much else moves the register. It's more exposure for smaller college schools, but the Big Ten certainly doesn't lack for publicity and recognition.
“When it comes to those decisions being made, I don't think it's always what's best for the student athlete,” Tippmann said. “It's about the money.”
Anyone who has followed sports for any length of time knows tradition stands no chance when money talks.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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