Asmussen | Moderation key to Friday college football

Asmussen | Moderation key to Friday college football

James Franklin still plans to show up at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 21. But he isn't going to be happy about it.

What's the beef? Nothing Illinois related. Or anti-Champaign-Urbana.

The Penn State football coach's issue is the day of the week his Nittany Lions are scheduled to play Illinois in the 2018 season: Friday.

"I'm not a fan of Friday night games," Franklin said on Wednesday. "Never have been. I think all the Big Ten coaches came out unanimously saying the same thing."

To Franklin, and most other football coaches, Friday is normally reserved for high school football.

In recent years, college football has started to infringe on the sacred night. Even the Big Ten. This season, the league is playing five games on Friday night. Two of them are the opening week of the season. Michigan State hosts Utah State and Wisconsin welcomes Western Kentucky. The final weekend, Nebraska visits Iowa. In between, there is Penn State-Illinois on the Big Ten's opening weekend and Indiana at Minnesota on Oct. 26.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is apparently a glass-half-full kind of guy. He likes the Friday night game because it gives him an extra day to prepare for the following week's opponent.

"As a coach, you'll take any extra day you can possibly get," Fleck said. "Remember, I'm a coach that comes from MACtion (Mid-American Conference). Whether it was Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, we'd play any day of the week. We played in three- or four-day turnarounds. We played in 10-day turnarounds. That gets very difficult for student-athletes. But again, I understand the TV and the money aspect."

Tick, tick, tick

All Franklin needed Wednesday was an opening. And he got it during the Big Ten's spring teleconference.

Franklin called himself old school. And agreed that Thursday night games are OK "in small doses."

Franklin likes his football the way it used to be. Friday for high schools, Saturday for colleges and Sunday for the NFL.

"That's been a great model that has worked for a long time and allowed each separate phase to really have a day and a night to enjoy on their own," Franklin said.

But fans, and more important television, like to mix it up a bit. The NFL turned "Monday Night Football" into a hit. It even survived Jon Gruden.

The NFL has done good numbers on Thursdays, too.

College football is branching out. While it avoids Sundays and Mondays, the rest of the week is open for business. And why not? If a Wednesday or Thursday night game works well and brings in more fans, do it.

"People saw that there was an opportunity with that," Franklin said. "It's created a little greed where other people have tried to work their way into those markets. We have to be careful and we have to respect each level.

"What I'm saying is that every level is greedy when it comes to trying to get as much exposure for their programs, their teams and eyes on TV sets."

Local voice

Illinois coach Lovie Smith values Friday night high school football. He grew up in Texas, one of the places that made it famous.

"There's not enough football to go around to everyone," Smith said. "Giving people another option on Friday night I think can be a good thing. I know we're excited about opening Big Ten play against a great football (team)."

Will it hurt high school football?

"I hope not," Smith said.

Nobody pointed out that Illinois high schools fill up Saturdays with playoff games during the college football season.

The high school coaches like the Saturday games, in part, to have an extra day to prepare.

But the schools have the option to keep Friday Night Lights going during the playoffs.

The college coaches have been careful not to criticize the Saturday playoff games. No reason to offend coaches who have top prospects.

The solution is simple: moderation.

If the Big Ten wants to play a handful of Friday games during the season, no biggie. If it bumps the number of 15 or 20, then it is a problem. That isn't going to happen.

The Big Ten understands the importance of good relationships with the high schools. It isn't going to spoil that relationship for the sake a few ratings points.

Franklin needs cover with the powerful high school coaches in Pennsylvania. He made it clear how he feels.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazete.com.