IOWA CITY, Iowa — Friday night college football no longer is taboo in Big Ten country.
Beginning with the 2017 season, the Big Ten plans to schedule six prime-time football games on Friday nights on its college campuses. That will include two games on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and four more scattered in September or October, according to Mark Rudner, the Big Ten’s senior associate commissioner for television administration.
“We saw this as an opportunity for significant exposure and more favorable use of national platforms for Big Ten football,” Rudner told Land of 10 on Wednesday morning.
The addition of Friday night football is part of the league’s new six-year media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox. Additionally, Rudner said the league will triple the total number of prime-time games airing on Fox and the ESPN family of networks from six to 18 beginning in 2017. The six Friday night games are part of the 18-game prime-time package. Prime-time games will air on either ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox or FS1.
“Those have got the exposure that we’re really excited about,” Rudner said.
BTN, of which the league owns 49 percent and Fox owns 51 percent, will continue to broadcast its regular number of prime-time games outside of Fox and the ESPN family of networks. This season, BTN was scheduled to show 12 prime-time football games but that number fluctuates annually.
Rudner acknowledges prime-time games on Friday night could cause issues for fans and high school football programs. He said Commissioner Jim Delany planned to reach out to high school football representatives in all 11 states within the Big Ten footprint by late Wednesday morning.
“We’re cognizant of the impact this has on high school football,” Rudner said.
But no school is exempt from playing host to a Friday night home game. That will create logistical issues at some locations, such as Iowa. Employees and patients occupy parking lots each day near University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which is located across the street from Kinnick Stadium. Other campuses face similar challenges. Delany did tell Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune that Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan might avoid hosting Friday night games because of their large stadium capacities.
To alleviate those concerns, the league plans to announce its six Friday night games at least 10 months in advance each year. The Big Ten will unveil the 2017 Friday night schedule within the next week.
“We would expect most, if not all, to be participating in this,” Rudner said. “I also think there’s a very strong recognition on the conference’s part and from our athletics directors and CEOs that we have great communication. We need to manage the impact that this will have academically and athletically on campus. So absolutely, it’s important for us to really stay connected. That’s why the Friday games are going to have a much earlier notification process and deadline than the Saturday night games will have.
“It will really give them 10, 11, 12 months to prepare.”
The Friday night schedule is geared toward exposure and capitalizing on a growing viewing window. In 2014, networks aired 53 Friday night college football games. That number has soared to 65 for this year. The Pac-12, ACC and Ivy League all have shown at least 10 games in prime-time on Friday nights over that three-year period, Rudner said.
There are no current plans to expand the Big Ten’s Black Friday television slate beyond Iowa-Nebraska, Rudner said.
Details remain incomplete regarding the Big Ten’s six-year media rights agreement with Fox and ESPN with no official announcement forthcoming. Answers regarding weekly network selection order for which games are undetermined.
“Moving forward in 2017, there will still be ESPN games and there will be Fox games,” Rudner said. “So how the prime-time games get parsed really will depend on the selection of how games are selected.
“I think there will come a time that we can respond more directly to that.”