Big Ten looks to dim Friday Night Lights


LOOK NOW, BUT the Big Ten is trying to steal the lights from Friday

Night Lights.

In an effort to cash in with a little more television revenue, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced last week the league’s new TV deal with ESPN, ABC and Fox calls for airing six prime-time Friday games to be played each season for the next six years.

That, of course, will pit those Big Ten games against high school football games across those states — including Wisconsin, something the conference has stayed away from for decades out of respect for the tradition of high school football and their fans.

Even some of the Big Ten schools winced at the greedy little venture. Penn State said they might play one road game per year and Michigan immediately said count us out. Ohio State said it would only play road games and maybe one during autumn break. Indiana said the Hoosiers might do it once every three years.

And Wisconsin?

Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said the Badgers would only agree to playing a game before Labor Day.

“As a former high school and college coach, I have great respect for the tradition and importance of Friday night high school football in the state of Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest,” Alvarez said in a statement. “As a conference, we felt it was the right time to explore additional opportunities for exposure on Friday nights.”

Translation: There was too much money on the table to walk away — despite high school football tradition.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was a little more blunt about it: “We’ve battled for a long time to try to be respectful obviously for high school football. But the reality is what we need to do for our television partners and what we need to do for our revenue stream, we needed to consider some different options.”

Like throwing high school sports under the bus and hurting their gate receipts and fan attendance. Just for a few more bucks for the Buckeyes and Bucky Badger.

“All things considered,” said Delany, “we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water.”

That, of course, is the camel sticking its nose under the tent. If it works, the whole caravan will soon arrive.

The impact on high school football is not the only downside to the Big Ten’s avarice. Friday night games would wreak havoc on cities like Madison if they were to overlay game day crowds on a regular business day. Tailgaters might be well advised instead to pack a picnic lunch to snack on while stuck in traffic. High school football recruits? Well, sorry Barry, but I have to play in a game that night.

The “additional opportunities” for television exposure? In all likelihood, that will only cheapen the Big Ten brand. The ACC and the PAC 12 already play televised games on weekdays along with other conferences because they don’t have the drawing power. Add Rutgers games to that lackluster lineup. The fact is, too, that the Big Ten has steadily increased its Saturday TV exposure over the last two decades, going from 16 televised games to 95 this year. Is there a saturation point for college football? Consider that the NFL — which is on television screens Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays — is struggling with TV ratings that are down 11 percent for the first six weeks of the year. NFL owners are whistling past the graveyard and hope it’s only a temporary blip caused by the presidential debates or the loss of Tom Brady during his suspension and the retirement of Peyton Manning — or maybe those Colin Kaepernick-inspired protests. Or maybe oversaturation boredom?

Still, the biggest impact will be on high school sports and our communities as the Big Ten tries to slice off a bit of Americana.

As Appleton North coach Rob Salm told the Appleton Post- Crescent: “The fact Friday Night Lights has been the fabric of positive social gatherings and town pride in nearly every community in our state makes this decision so devastating to our great sport.

“It’s sad to think a conference that relies on our athletes to fill their rosters would consider making a change that would have such a negative effect on high school football, communities, and most importantly, young men. Bottom line, everything comes down to making more money no matter who it hurts.”

We would hope the Wisconsin Badgers slide away from this TV contract as much as possible and leave Friday nights to the local teams in all our communities.

The Big Ten gets flagged for encroachment and we hope it loses this game. — The Journal Times of Racine, Nov. 8

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