It’s hard to find much support amongst fans for the Big Ten’s plans to play football on Friday nights. Not only do these plans conflict with high school games, but the logistics of handling tens of thousands of football fans on a weekday make it a big issue. Where do students and fans park when games and classes coincide? Will fans be able to make it from out of town to a weekday game? The issues have forced several Big Ten schools to decline to participate; Northwestern just backed out.
The idea behind Friday nights was to open up new broadcast windows for Big Ten games and gain exposure. The goals were worth pursuing, but not worth the costs. Especially when there is another way to accomplish it:
I call it the B1G Labor Day Weekend.
Tradition has always been that high schools play on Fridays, colleges play on Saturdays, and the pros play on Sundays. And that’s the way it works, for the most part. But about 20 years ago, colleges moved up the start of the football season to Labor Day weekend. The NFL has not.
In fact, NFL teams almost always finish their preseason before Labor Day weekend, in order to get their rosters set for the season, which now begins with a single game on the Thursday night after Labor Day.
Labor Day weekend brings us a three day weekend, but really only one day of football. Only on Saturday. ESPN has been picking a game for Labor Day night for the last ten years or so, and then added a Sunday night game recently as well. But for the most part, the afternoons are pretty much football free.
If we’re going to have football on Labor Day weekend, and want to add new broadcast windows to showcase the Big Ten, the solution is simple. Let’s blow out the entire weekend with Big Ten football.
Take this year: Thursday, August 31 has two games: Ohio State at Indiana and BBuffalo at Minnesota. If those schools are agreeable, then leave them. Friday, September 1 will have a doubleheader: Washington at Rutgers and Utah State at Wisconsin. Again, if the schools want to do this, good.
Saturday brings us nine games, with all but one on Big Ten campuses. (Michigan will play Florida at JerryWorld in Arlington, Texas.) Those eight Big Ten games will get squeezed into 3 broadcast windows, meaning that you’ll have 3-4 games on simultaneously.
Here’s the idea: take those eight games and spread them out over all three days. 11 am, 2:30 and primetime on Saturday and Sunday, then noon and 4 pm on Monday.
Eight games. Eight timeslots. Perfect fit.
And most importantly, all of the concerns about Friday nights fade away and all of the benefits increase even more. Let’s say Nebraska volunteers to play Arkansas State on Sunday; not only does the game not conflict with games, recruits can fly in on Saturday for an official visit and make the game without any issues. Even for a Sunday 11 am kickoff.
Ideally, you’d have east division teams filling the 11 am slots those days, but some flexibility is in order. Some might want a Monday night game, but that brings up challenges on the back end, with fans having to drive hours to get home and then have to work the next day. A 4 pm kickoff still allows fans to head home afterwards and get home at a reasonable time to work the next day.
Sunday and Labor Day football. It’s such a simple solution that accomplishes everything the Big Ten wanted with the Friday night package and more, with none of the “unintended consequences.”