For Kirk Ciarrocca, college football meant two things when he was growing up.
Saturdays and “Whoa, Nellie!”
“I grew up in the era where there was only one game on TV on Saturday and it was on ABC with Keith Jackson,” the 53-year-old Gophers offensive coordinator said. “I couldn’t wait for that game to come on.”
Friday night, however, Ciarrocca will be part of a game that shows how different college football is now compared to the 1970s. The Gophers will play Indiana at TCF Bank Stadium, a 7 p.m. contest on Fox Sports 1. It will be Minnesota’s first Friday night game since 2003, when the Gophers played Michigan in the Metrodome — I’ll spare you the gory finish of that game — because the Twins had a potential playoff game that Saturday.
The Gophers-Hoosiers matchup is one of two Friday night conference games that the Big Ten mandated this year, and Commissioner Jim Delany last year acknowledged there was “pushback” over Friday games because they infringe on the traditional night for high school football.
One of those pushing back was Indiana coach Tom Allen, who started his career as a prep coach in Indianapolis.
“I coached high school football for 15 years, and I’m very passionate about ... all that goes into Friday night football for high school players, and what it means to communities,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the Friday night games for college. I’m not trying to beat a drum about it; just trying to be honest and open. … We’ll just do what we’re asked to do. We’ll play our tails off no matter what day of the week.”
When the Gophers’ Friday game was announced, the Minnesota State High School League expressed its concerns to the university, which informed the Big Ten that it would prefer not to play on Fridays. This week, the Gophers game conflicts with Friday’s Class 6A playoffs.
“The University of Minnesota has been great with us,” said Erich Martens, executive director of the high school league. “We appreciate their work and we support what they do.”
Martens said U officials have requested that if the Gophers must play a home game on a Friday that it be during MEA weekend, when prep teams play on Wednesday.
“This time around that didn’t work,” Martens said, “but it’s likely in the future that’s the Friday we’re going to get.”
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck considers himself a traditionalist but sees how TV — and TV money — talks.
“I’m a firm believer in high school football is played on Fridays, college football is played on Saturday, and NFL is played on Sunday,” he said. “… But I don’t run TV. It’s TV-driven, we know that. And if that’s what’s best for TV and they’re making the calls, then we’ll play anywhere.”
Fleck did just that in his previous coaching stop at Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. “If there was an eighth day of the week,” Fleck said, “we would’ve had it on there.”
Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman, a former Eden Prairie High School standout, is feeling nostalgic.
“It’s a little exciting ... It kind of takes you back to your high school days,” he said. “So, I’m actually looking forward to it.’’
Ciarrocca doesn’t object, even if it’s not that one Saturday game with Jackson on the call.
“It’s the way it is today, and it’s fine,” he said. “I don’t disagree with it in any way. That’s just the age we live in now.”
Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org