Allen wants to keep Friday nights for high schools

Tom Allen grew up under the Friday night lights.

Long before a 15-year run as a coach at the high school level, including head coaching stints in Florida and at Ben Davis, Allen watched his father, Tom Sr., stalk the sidelines at New Castle. Another chunk of Allen’s life has been spent in high school stadiums across the country, recruiting players for the next level.

Now the coach at Indiana, Allen’s position is clear. He doesn’t want to see the Big Ten infringe upon the Friday night tradition of the high school game.

At Big Ten media day Monday, Allen voiced his disapproval in the league’s plan to play Friday night games this season and in the years to come, expressing concern that the conference is overstepping its bounds.

“I think that’s a special night,” Allen said. “I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night, but it’s not always my decision.”

The decision rests in large part with Big Ten commisioner Jim Delany, who acknowledged that the league has experienced pushback from coaches and state high school athletic administrators around the conference footprint since the Big Ten last November announced its plan to play Friday night games beginning this fall.

At least publicly, Big Ten coaches have offered mixed feelings on the idea, which the conference has said is based on expanding television exposure, particularly for the league’s lower tier programs.

Football giants like Michigan and Penn State are completely against it. Nebraska will play a Friday night game this year, but coach Mike Riley said this week that he doesn’t want the Cornhuskers scheduled on anymore Fridays after they visit Illinois on Sept. 29.

Northwestern was scheduled for two Friday night games this fall — at Maryland and at home against Michigan State — but coach Pat Fitzgerald’s strong, vocal opposition to the idea eventually led to both of those games moving back to Saturdays.

Other schools have been a bit more agreeable.

Illinois will play two Friday night games this year and Purdue will play one. As a trade off, the Boilermakers will allow local high school teams the opportunity to play games at Ross-Ade Stadium the day after Purdue hosts Ohio on Friday, Sept. 8.

Michigan State has played its home opener on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend in five of the previous six years, though Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis has said that Michigan State is only interested in playing Friday night games during that particular weekend.

Shortly after the Big Ten’s plan was announced in November, IU athletic director Fred Glass said Indiana would agree to play one Friday night game in any three-year period. Glass said Labor Day weekend would be the most desirable window for the Hoosiers.

Indiana doesn’t have any Friday games scheduled this season, though the Hoosiers will open the season on a Thursday — Aug. 31 against Ohio State.

“It’s fair to say there’s been pushback,” Delany said. “It led us to open up even more communication with the high school directors.”

But like Allen, many league coaches aren’t sold.

Not only would the Big Ten steal attention from the high school game, it would put league coaches in a difficult recruiting situation. Coaches would have a limited slate of games to observe, while high school prospects may have one less weekend when they could visit a Big Ten institution for a gameday experience.

“I think that’s a situation where I would prefer that we didn’t,” Allen said. “But I understand there may be factors outside of my control for that. I would like to keep that night special for high school football. That means a lot to me.”