Last decade, when Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said he wanted to preserve Friday nights for high school football, he sure sounded sincere.
The Gophers were slated to play Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003, but with the Twins heading to the postseason, the Metrodome had a major scheduling conflict.
Minnesota proposed moving the game to Oct. 10. Then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr flat refused.
“We’re not going to play on a Friday night,” Carr said that August. “That’s pretty simple.”
Delany eventually mediated, and Michigan relented, with the Gophers agreeing to cover the Wolverines’ change-of-travel costs.
“The Big Ten continues to support the protection of Friday night as a traditional high school football playing date,” Delany said then. “This result was considered to be the most feasible of several unattractive alternatives.”
But money talks, and television always gets what it wants. When Delany negotiated the Big Ten’s latest TV deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox, he agreed to incorporate six Friday night games next season.
“All things considered, we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water,” Delany told the Chicago Tribune this week.
The ACC and Pac-12 were the first major conferences to embrace Friday games, banking on the added national exposure. Washington’s Sept. 30 game against Stanford, for example, drew a reported 3.3 million viewers. Delany had 2.64 billion reasons to accommodate the networks. That’s how much the Big Ten is getting from this six-year TV deal, according to Sports Business Journal. The Gophers will get their cut, of course, but coach Tracy Claeys still said he’s “not a fan” of Friday night college games.
Claeys hopes if the Gophers are picked for a Friday night game, it’s on the road, so as not to take away from Minnesota’s high school football scene.
Once again, Michigan is refusing to play Friday games, home or road. Penn State announced it only would be willing to play Fridays on the road. Michigan State and Ohio State said they’d only host a Friday game if it falls on one specific date.
The Big Ten’s decision is “disheartening and disappointing,” said Kevin Merkle, the associate director who oversees football for the Minnesota State High School League. “It impacts attendance. It can impact media coverage, even when there are Big Ten teams on TV that are not Minnesota. Let’s say Wisconsin is playing Ohio State.”
Recent Gophers season openers have fallen on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, conflicting with Minnesota’s high school football opener. But the university has an agreement with the State Fair, for parking purposes, that says any Gophers home game before Labor Day has to be Thursday. The Big Ten plans to have two of its six Friday games on Labor Day weekend. The schedule has yet to be announced. There’s also a chance the Gophers could play the Friday of MEA weekend in mid-October, when the high schools play Wednesday.
But other Friday Gophers games won’t sit well with Minnesota high school coaches.
“I’m positive the NCAA is going to hear about our disappointment with this decision,” said Brainerd coach Ron Stolski, executive director of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. “And I’m certain across the nation, our disappointment will echo.”
Former Wayzata coach Brad Anderson said: “I think it’s a big mistake for the Big Ten. To me, you’re losing the college experience and chasing the dollars. It just doesn’t feel like college football when you’re playing on Tuesdays or Thursdays or Fridays. I think it’s going to get oversaturated, similar to the NFL.”
Back in 2003, the Gophers got their Friday game and blew a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead in that nightmarish loss to Michigan. Maybe the football gods were talking.
BIG TEN SHORT TAKES
• Nebraska has outscored opponents 108-13 in the fourth quarter, including last week’s 10-0 margin in the overtime loss at Wisconsin. That 95-point fourth quarter leads the nation. With Nebraska heading into another huge game at Ohio State before hosting the Gophers next week, the Huskers’ resilience under second-year coach Mike Riley has been striking. Especially considering the late-game struggles last year and before that under Bo Pelini.
• It’s surprising seeing Penn State at No. 12 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, especially since James Franklin appeared to be on the hot seat before the Oct. 1 win over the Gophers. But now it’s not hard to envision an 8-1 Big Ten finish for the Nittany Lions. They finish with Iowa (home), Indiana (road), Rutgers (road) and Michigan State (home).
• It seemed like Wisconsin’s schedule would relent after LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. But now the Badgers head to Northwestern, where they are 0-4 since 1999. The Wildcats knocked off Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana before giving Ohio State a good scare last week in Columbus in that 28-24 loss. Wisconsin and Northwestern both need a win to stay alive in the Big Ten West race.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Michigan (8-0, 5-0): Underrated QB Wilton Speight is a 6-6 version of Jake Rudock, with 13 TDs, and 3 INTs.
2. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1): Curtis Samuel is so dynamic, it’s surprising the Buckeyes don’t give him the ball more.
3. Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2): Concern from Nebraska game: Andrew Endicott’s late-game kicking (missed FG, extra point).
4. Nebraska (7-1, 4-1): Nate Gerry picked off both Wisconsin quarterbacks: Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston.
5. Penn State (6-2, 4-1): Saquon Barkley moved into the Big Ten rushing lead (888 yards) with his 207 against Purdue.
6. Northwestern (4-4, 3-2): This defense is clicking. The Wildcats held Indiana and Ohio State to a combined 38 points.
7. Iowa (5-3, 3-2): Had bye week to recover before facing Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska down the stretch.
8. Gophers (6-2, 3-2): Minnesota ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 21st nationally in total defense (342.8 yards).
9. Indiana (4-4, 2-3): Devine Redding, Tyler Natee and Zander Diamont all rushed for 100 yards against Maryland.
10. Maryland (5-3, 2-3): One win from bowl berth, remaining schedule goes: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Rutgers.
11. Michigan State (2-6, 0-5): Spartans will try to stop their first six-game losing streak since 1982 this week at Illinois.
12. Purdue (3-5, 1-4): Sophomore QB David Blough has three games this year with 30 or more completions.
13. Illinois (2-6, 1-4): Lovie Smith vehemently denied a report that he’s miserable in first season in Champaign.
14. Rutgers (2-6, 0-5): Scarlet Knights had a bye after close loss at Minnesota and hope to upset Indiana this week.