CHICAGO — If it’s quantum mechanics, tort law or lobster bisque, the ‘Dadgummit, that’s how The Ivys do it’ argument wins every damn time. Point your abacus at the scoreboard. Drop the mic. Winnah.
Friday night football, not so much.
“I was a little surprised, simply because we’ve been doing it on Fridays — Labor Day, but that’s different than a little bit later in the year,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany explained Monday to a media gaggle after his state-of-the-league address that kicked off 2017 Big Ten Media Days at McCormick Place.
“And also because all the conferences around the country have touched on it, one way or another. Including the Ivy League, which does a half-dozen games.”
Ivy League average football attendance in 2016: 7,064.
Big Ten average football attendance in 2016: 66,151.
Stop. Just. Stop.
“But I think we can mitigate [that],” Delany continued. “We look forward to working with the high school directors to do it. And it’s an opportunity for our teams to get in a [broadcast] window. And I know there’s sensitivity on it, and I’m extremely conscious of that.”
One, stop bringing up the Ivy League as justification for Big Ten football games on Friday night, then look astonished when the logic doesn’t take, when the argument doesn’t stick.
New Hampshire population in 2015: 1.331 million.
11-man football programs in New Hampshire in 2014-15: 57.
Nebraska population in 2015: 1.896 million.
11-man football programs in Nebraska in 2014-15: 162.
‘I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night.’
— Indiana football coach Tom Allen
Second, we get it. Television rules. Broadcast holds the purse strings. The tail wags the dog. No cows are too sacred anymore, and six years and $2.64 billion buys an awful lot of beef.
Fox Sports 1 is still trying to find a cultural foothold. ESPN is still trying to maintain the monopolistic stranglehold that it’s held for more than a generation. Cord-cutting is draining blood from the lot of them, slowly, month by month, drip after drip.
Friday nights in prime time are fresh, desirable — and, most of all, sellable. We get that, too. Broadcast partners are paying up the nose for their pound of flesh.
Fine. Give them two:
1. Labor Day Weekend.
2. Thanksgiving Weekend.
Swing open the gates, boys and girls. Go nuts. On those Fridays, snatch all the windows you like.
Just leave the rest alone.
Leave the middle for the kids. The parents. The coaches. The officials. The pep clubs. The chain gangs. The concessionaires. The towns. The patchworks of communities, large and small, that make up your backbone.
“I think [Friday’s] a special night,” said Indiana coach Tom Allen, who cut his teeth in the high school game. “I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night. But it’s not always my decision. But I’m not one of those — I’m not going to just not tell you what I believe.”
Delany has made his hay — literally, in the form of a reported $20 million bonus — on being three steps ahead of his peers and six steps ahead of the press. The Big Ten’s announced broadcast deal is shorter than its Power 5 peers, in part, because the commish knows that strength in the 21st century media landscape is as much about diversity and flexibility as it is long-term partnerships with TV giants. The ability to pivot, to churn content toward the mediums that attract the most eyeballs, all while leveraging your most valuable product to the highest bidders in the room.
The man knows the market.
If only he knew his base half as well.
— Land of 10 Nebraska (@Landof10Huskers) July 24, 2017
SEC Friday games in 2017 besides Thanksgiving weekend: 0.
Big 12 Friday games in 2017 besides Thanksgiving weekend: 0.
Big Ten Friday games in 2017 besides Thanksgiving weekend: 5.
As they say along the Charles River, it ain’t rocket science. Oh, no. To your core audience, prep football Friday nights mean a hell of a lot more than that.