Upcoming seasons could see Indiana playing more football under the lights.
The Friday night lights, to be exact.
The Big Ten is moving forward with a plan to schedule six prime-time games on Friday nights beginning with the 2017 season, the Chicago Tribune first reported on Wednesday.
The scheduling wrinkle is part of the Big Ten’s new six-year television agreement with ESPN and Fox. Specific Friday matchups for next season, which will all take place in September and October, are expected to be officially announced by the league within the next week. The conference is reportedly set to make $2.64 billion during the life of the media-rights agreement.
According to the Chicago Tribune, conference commissioner Jim Delany will not ask schools that play in large stadiums like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan to participate. The Tribune reports that Michigan has refused altogether to play Friday games both at home and on the road. Penn State, meanwhile, released a statement Wednesday announcing that it told the league it has no interest in hosting Friday games, aside from the occasional contest the day after Thanksgiving.
For other schools, like Indiana, it is both a marketing opportunity and a logistical hurdle. Friday night games will afford Big Ten programs, both in non-conference and league play, to showcase themselves in a prime-time TV window.
On the other hand, Friday nights have long belonged to the high school game and shifting to Friday will put Big Ten schools in a difficult recruiting situation. Coaches won’t be able to travel to watch games, and it will also limit the opportunities schools have to host high school prospects inside of the gameday experience.
IU athletic director Fred Glass told The Herald-Times on Wednesday that Indiana has agreed to play one Friday night game in any three-year period. That also includes Labor Day, “which would be a desirable window if we’re able to get that,” Glass said.
Throughout the talks to bring Big Ten football to Friday nights, Glass said IU coach Kevin Wilson and the rest of his colleagues across the conference were kept involved each step of the way.
“For us, as an up-and-coming program, the more open windows we can get, the better,” Glass said. “Our belief is that even though there might be some logistical issues with things like recruiting weekends and other things, from a football perspective, it’s great for us to be in a window sort of by ourselves. We think from an exposure standpoint and for building the brand, if you will, the opportunity to play on Fridays is a plus.”
Glass said he shared a conference call earlier Wednesday with Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski and Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox, taking time to talk through the plan and weigh the factors involved.
“The biggest hesitation by us was just not wanting to adversely impact high school football,” Glass said. “Fridays have traditionally been the domain of high school football. I think everybody in the Big Ten is sensitive to that. I think we are particularly sensitive to that and it’s one of the reasons why the Big Ten is fairly late to the Friday night party.
“… I was really glad Bobby said, ‘Hey, I view this as a glass half-full thing. Maybe there are some things we can do with marketing.’ But we pledged to work together to try and not only hopefully mitigate any downside to high school football, but really make this an opportunity for high school football.”