Friday night lights are coming to the Big Ten.
The conference’s new television agreements with ESPN/ABC and Fox will include a package of six prime-time Friday games beginning in 2017, Commissioner Jim Delany told the Tribune on Wednesday.
The selected games will be revealed this week.
“All things considered,” Delany said, “we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water.”
With the exception of Labor Day weekend, the Big Ten has turned down Friday night games, citing a conflict with high school football and concerns about affecting class time and campus logistics.
Delany said the conference is reluctant to ask schools with giant seating capacities to host Friday night games, largely because of traffic concerns.
Michigan is flat-out saying no to all Friday night games, home and road. Delany said he believes the school simply prefers Saturday games for “consistency of presentation.”
“We fully support the Big Ten’s scheduling decisions as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “With our large fan base, Michigan fans and alumni travel significant distances to attend games, making Saturdays our preferred day for all football games.”
Penn State released a statement saying it informed the Big Ten it would not play host to Friday night games, mainly because “we know how important Friday night high school football is to hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com that it could host only on the Friday night of fall break, when class is not in session. He also said the school is fine with Friday night road games in September.
There will be three Friday conference games and three nonconference games in September and October, Delany said. No team will play on Friday more than twice in a season.
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, noting the school draws better at night, said the decision “makes sense … when you look across the college football landscape, this is being done.”
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said the school would welcome prime-time Friday games, saying that national exposure, plus not bumping up against another Big Ten game, is a plus for “a program that is building.”
When Delany became commissioner in 1989, he said, the conference had 16 televised football games. Now that number is 95, and he said the result is that the Saturday TV windows “become cannibalized.”
So the conference is bucking its own tradition to create a new TV window — on a somewhat limited scale.
The news was met with mixed reactions from Big Ten fans. Many ripped it as an unnecessary cash grab that will harm high school football and force student-athletes to miss class.
Doreen Ash, wife of Rutgers coach Chris Ash, ripped the decision on Twitter, writing: “This is ridiculous. As a HS (high school) parent I will have to choose between my son’s game or husband’s game. There will be no recruits and limited fans.”
Many conferences already play Friday night games, including the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Mountain West.