COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wanted night games, and the Big Ten obliged.
But the league apparently needs a little lesson in moderation.
The Buckeyes are going to be under the lights on Saturday at Nebraska, and typically they love the setting, the energy and the attention. But they’ve already played in prime time at Indiana, and for some reason they also had a night game two weeks ago at Rutgers. In all likelihood, the television partners in the Big Ten are going to want the Buckeyes for another evening showcase next month at Iowa.
The only thing saving Ohio State from playing every road game at night this season is the sacred tradition of The Game, which was protected and granted a noon kickoff.
It’s not fair to pin this new problem on Meyer, of course. There’s no way he could have known the league or the broadcasters would take his suggestion to such an extreme. But he did create some of the mess by starting the conversation when he arrived at Ohio State and almost singlehandedly changed the culture of the Big Ten.
There is no question the league is in better shape because of Meyer’s influence. He shook up the status quo when it came to more aggressive recruiting. Part of his sales pitch included putting games under the lights for a national audience, ramping up the stadium atmospheres, and making it easier for recruits who play on Friday nights to enjoy their visits. Meyer’s reasons were valid, and clearly the Big Ten was willing to listen.
But the league has gone too far. The Buckeyes don’t get back home until 4 or 5 Sunday morning after a night game on the road, and doing that repeatedly is obviously going to take a toll physically and mentally. The same thing is true for visitors to Ohio Stadium, obviously, so this isn’t just a complaint that Ohio State isn’t getting enough chances to show off at the Horseshoe.
(It’s also not just a sportswriter’s gripe about working into the wee hours of the morning. Although I can tell you that’s not one of the perks of the job.)
Meyer was right about adding night games back then, and he’s right about limiting them to a couple per season now. If that means playing as often as possible at night at home, that’s surely a trade he’d be willing to make.
I think there’s also a case to be made that the schools should have more scheduling power. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of Meyer’s office when he was told the Buckeyes weren’t going to get Penn State under the lights after his team had to deal with the noise, whiteout and primetime pressure at Happy Valley last season.
It’s absolutely insane that Ohio State’s biggest home game of the season — a potential division championship showdown with revenge implications — won’t be played in prime time. Certainly FOX can do what it wants with its broadcast inventory, and it clearly wants to protect baseball and the World Series. But the Big Ten needs to look after its best interests.
Publicly, Meyer hasn’t framed his latest proposal about the Penn State game, which is a sign he knows scaling back on night games on the road would have an impact at home. He’s also made it clear that he knows where the checks that have helped improve the quality around the Big Ten are signed.
But the work Meyer has done since arriving in the league has also unquestionably helped the bottom line. And when he cares enough to ask for something, the Big Ten should have learned by now that it’s a good idea to give it to him.