Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Night Lights

It used to be very easy to follow Wisconsin Badgers Football when I was younger.  Most home games started at 1:00 Saturday afternoons at Camp Randall Stadium.  If they played one of the schools in the Eastern Time Zone that kickoff would usually be at noon.  And watching games on TV  meant waiting until 10:00 Saturday night to watch a replay on Wisconsin Public Television--because ABC wasn't going to show the 1-5 Badgers "battle" 2-4 Purdue to a national audience.

But then ESPN came along and offered the Big Ten extra money to be part of "tripleheader coverage" every Saturday.  This ushered in the 11:00 am kickoff for home games (which guaranteed a 1/3 full student section for most of the first half, because who get out of bed before 11 am on a Saturday?).  And then the Badgers got really good, so ABC wanted them for their 2:30 national games.

Then ESPN came back with more money and wanted the Big Ten to be part of their "prime time package" and suddenly there were 7:00 kickoffs--which also necessitated the installation of permanent lights at Camp Randall (previous games had used temporary lights on cranes rented for the night).  Then the Big Ten Network was created to rake in even more cash for the schools--I mean to "increase the visibility of the fine educational institutions".  Their "prime time" games would kick off at 6:00--so a new time slot was created for those contests.  And to make things more confusing for fans, most kickoff times aren't announced until two weeks before the game--so the networks can all decide which contests they want in what time slot--so you can't really plan your weekends that far in advance.

Now comes the announcement from the Big Ten that it will start playing one Friday night "prime time" game a week starting next season.  Again, the stated idea is to "increase the visibility of the fine educational institutions"--but we all know that some network is again offering piles of cash in exchange for what is usually sports programming with good ratings.

Initially, I was surprised that nearly all of the conference coaches took to social media this week to denounce the announcement (which makes me wonder if their Athletic Directors even consulted with them before voting to do this).  Many talked about the "sanctity" of Friday Night High School Football--and how that should be preserved.  But I think that because all coaches are control freaks, they just didn't want one less day to prepare and practice for a game.

But despite those protestations, the Big Ten will go forward with their own edition of Friday Night Lights.  And the rest of us will find ourselves every week asking "When is the Badgers game again?"

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