Walking out of the back of the door of The Times-Gazette offices the other day, I heard a noise off to my left.
It sounded like someone talking over a public address system, and as I glanced in the direction of the noise, there was Richards Memorial Field, the home site for Hillsboro High School home football games, clearly visible in the distance.
It was hot and humid, like it usually is when the high school football season starts, and for the most brief of moments I wondered if I was missing a game. But just as quick, it struck me that it is only mid July, and while football season is rapidly approaching (the first day of coaching for high school football is July 31), it will be a while yet before Hillsboro opens the season on Aug. 25.
Then in the next moment, something that’s been bugging me for a while came to mind.
Late last year, the Big Ten Conference announced that its teams would play football on six Friday nights this fall. The reason, no doubt, is that it can reel in a little more television revenue.
When I first heard the news, I was taken aback. Teams from some of the smaller collegiate conferences have been playing games here and there on Fridays for a while now. But the Big Ten?
C’mon guys, Friday night is for high school football.
For years, my autumn weekends – with the required family exceptions – revolved pretty much around this: high school football on Friday night, college football on Saturday, and the NFL on Sunday. Or, more accurately, a Hillsboro game on Friday night, an Ohio State game on Saturday, and the Dallas Cowboys or Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Of course, when Monday Night Football came along many years ago, it was wildly successful, and since then the slate of football games on TV has steamrolled until you can watch a game almost any night during the season.
For years I rarely missed a Monday night game. Now I rarely watch one, other than to catch the score or a few plays, unless the Cowboys or Bengals are playing. Maybe that’s because my tastes have changed as I have grown older, but maybe it’s because a football game on TV is no longer something special to look forward to like it once was.
So the question on my mind is, why does the Big Ten need to start playing Friday night football games? Is it really in that much need of extra money? And shouldn’t Friday be reserved for the high school kids?
For football fans, autumn Friday evenings are a time to go support those high school kids – the players, the band, the cheerleaders, the boosters, the coaches, your neighbors, and more. It’s a time when communities come together to rally around a common cause – the community’s future.
Now, I guess, the Big Ten and others want a piece of that pie, too.
That ticks me off. And I’m not the only one.
Here are some online comments I read after the announcement was originally made last year:
• “Friday night games would put the Big Ten in a recruiting disadvantage,” said one Big Ten assistant coach. “No other conference has the game-day atmospheres of this league. Combined with two teams, or whoever is playing, would not have the opportunity of going to recruit on Friday nights, as well [as] to watch prospects play.”
• Another assistant said, “It kills us with recruiting. One of the best things about our place is the game-day environment. Those kids won’t be able to experience that, because they will all have their games.”
• Both the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and the Michigan High School Athletic Association expressed disappointment about the decision.
• “We had hoped that the Big Ten Conference would stay above this,” MHSAA executive director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “We think this cheapens the Big Ten brand. Fans won’t like this. Recruits won’t like this. And high school football coaches won’t like this.”
And what about all those high school kids across the country who lay it on the line on Friday nights, all in the name of representing their communities? Do they not night deserve their moment in the sun? Aren’t they the future of college football?
After all the negative backlash, the Big Ten backed off a bit on its Friday schedule. But still, Rutgers, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin will all play Friday night football games during the high school season this year.
I hope their crowds are small. I hope football fans still go out to watch their high school teams. I hope the Big Ten schools hosting games this year lose revenue by playing on Friday rather than Saturday. Because we all know that’s the bottom line.
Friday is for the high school kids. It’s their one time to shine under the Friday night lights.
At least it used to be.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]