Big Ten playing Friday night football: Area coaches say scouting and visits could be reduced

  • Written by Frank Gogola


Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence coach Harold Blackmon, who played Big Ten football at Northwestern, said when he was in college he loved playing Saturday morning games.  

Richards football coach Tony Sheehan heads home after coaching Friday night games with several hours to rest. He’ll flip on college football, normally a Pac-12 or Mountain West game, before a brief sleep and a return to school for Saturday morning film review.

College football on Friday nights isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s been a topic of discussion around the Midwest since the Big Ten announced it’ll play Friday night games beginning next season. Area coaches see the decision by the Big Ten, which played its conference championship game on Saturday in Indianapolis, negatively impacting recruiting and having a neutral effect on attendance.

“As a player, I loved playing on Saturday mornings in college,” said St. Laurence football coach Harold Blackmon, who played at Northwestern. “I wouldn’t trade that for the world. This seems a little awkward to have to play on a Friday night as a college student.”

High school players will feel the biggest impact, Sheehan and Blackmon believe. The number of opportunities decreases for a Big Ten coach to scout a high school game or a player to make a visit to a Saturday college game. It’s one less potential contact for players looking to secure an offer.

Blackmon said has no issue with the Big Ten going after TV exposure and money. But, as a traditionalist, he’d like to see Fridays reserved for high school football. It’s a sentiment shared by Sheehan.

“I understand they’re trying to get more people to watch,” Sheehan said. “But at the same time, Friday night is supposed to be high school. You know, ‘Friday Night Lights’ … I just liked that Friday night is high school football and is revered for that.”

Big Ten teams will play six Friday night games per year over the next six seasons as part of a new television agreement. The games will be confined to September and October. The Big Ten previously only played Friday games on Labor Day weekend.

In Illinois, the Illini will host Nebraska on Sept. 29. Northwestern will travel to Maryland on Oct. 13 and will host Michigan State on Oct. 27.

There were 65 Friday night college games across the country during the 2016 season, according to a Big Ten news release. A schedule search showed all 10 conferences had teams playing on a Friday at least once.

“It’s just a trend,” Blackmon said. “And I think it’s this oversaturation of football on the collegiate and pro level.”

Sheehan and Blackmon don’t expect the Big Ten playing on Friday affecting attendance at their schools or others in the area. Northwestern is one hour away while Illinois is a two-hour drive. Neither team is a perennial contender.

“This won’t destroy high school football on Fridays,” Blackmon said. “Most of your fans are students who don’t play football. They’re not as interested in Big Ten football as you’d like to think.”

Added Sheehan: “With phones and tablets, they can watch part of the game or get updates (while at a high school game) if they’re that interested.”

Even if a handful of fans remain home, Steve Smithers, first-year Marist athletic director, doesn’t see football gate receipts being severely lessened.

That $5 ticket, $2 hot dog and $1 coffee add up to support football and non-revenue sports. But, Smithers said gate receipts haven’t so far been as big a budgetary issue at Marist (enrollment: 1,655) as compared to the smaller Rock Island Alleman Catholic (enrollment: 448), where he worked from 2005 to 2016.

“There are probably enough fans to go around,” Smithers said. “So, I’m sure after the dust settles we’ll all be OK.”