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Big Ten’s Friday Night Turf Invasion

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Tuesday’s Big Ten announcement that it will add six prime-time Friday games to its schedule has been met with strong reactions from football fans and athletics administrators, and not many are excited about the decision. From high school associations who see the Friday night games as an invasion of their turf to member colleges who view the games as a logistics nightmare — not to mention the general fan opinion that the move represents an egregious money grab — the reactions have been swift and loud.

"Even a nationally televised away game would have a negative impact on high school programs by dividing the fan base," the Iowa High School Athletic Association said in a statement. "While the decision to play Big Ten Conference football on Friday nights may be in the best interest of the Big Ten Conference and its member schools, we do not believe it is in the best interests of high school football across the State of Iowa."

The governing bodies for high school athletics in Ohio, Michigan and Iowa, as well as the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and Illinois High School Football Association, were quick to issue statements expressing disappointment in the decision, as well as commissioner Jim Delany for not conferring with the high school associations or taking their input.

"Had he asked for feedback we, like I'm sure every other Midwest/Big Ten state office, would have objected," said Ohio High School Athletic Associationdirector of communications Tim Stried. "In Ohio on any given Friday night in the fall we have about 350 high school football games across the state. The majority of those folks are Ohio State fans. Something that could keep some folks from going out to see their local high school, obviously we're not going to be thrilled with that."

High school football games would feel the initial impact of plummeting attendance and revenue, but the repercussions would ripple into other high school sports, some warn.

“Friday night football is a huge part of your entire athletic budget,” retired Indiana high school football coach Dick Dullaghan says. “Some high schools can make enough money on one Friday night to support two or three other sports for the whole year. And they only charge $5 to get in. It’s the greatest bargain in the world.”

Fortunately for high school football, the announcement has been met with tepid reaction among many of the Big Ten member schools, as well. Penn State Athletics immediately released a statement that it would not host Saturday games, as Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, citing the hardship it would create for fans.

"We fully support the Big Ten's scheduling decisions as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights," 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."

The move would put many established gameday traditions at risk, throwing a wrench in established gameday cultures that could potentially affect future recruiting, some coaches fear. There are also concerns about such games interfering with the school day, creating parking and traffic headaches.

The decision does have its supporters, both at the college and high school level. Northwestern AD Jim Phillips says that night games draw better attendance for the school and is looking forward to adding more. Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox also has come out in support of the decision. "I think this is also a great opportunity for our organizations to work together to cross-promote a sport that has been under attack," Cox told IndyStar.

Many college football conferences already play Friday night games, including the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, suggesting there is hope for HS and college football to peacefully coexist. Regardless, many Big Ten fans still view the move as a cash grab by the conference.

“We are grateful that Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are trying to minimize the effects of this decision by the Big Ten," said Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director Jack Roberts. "But overall, this is just the latest step by major college athletics in the pursuit of cash that is just crushing high school sports.”

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