Friday Night Scheduling Fights Continue

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.5, August/September 2002,

One year ago, high school coaches and administrators lined up to denounce the lifting of restrictions on Friday night football telecasts, giving college teams a rough reception as the new kid on the Friday night scheduling block. This year, the volume of complaints has decreased, but the underlying issues remain, especially in regions that will be hosting Friday night college games this fall.

The ESPN networks plan to televise seven Friday night games this season, same as last year. The first two (Fresno State at Wisconsin on Aug. 23 and Oklahoma at Tulsa on Aug. 29) will be held before local high schools begin their regular season schedule. But the other five games (one each at Brigham Young, Marshall, New Mexico, Boise State, and Fresno State) will be held during the heart of the high school football season.

Mike Hayden, Executive Secretary of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, says the Marshall game will probably have a limited effect outside the immediate area, but will have a definite impact on high school contests near Huntington. He has expressed his concerns about the Friday night game to Marshall, to no avail.

“But I also understand the economics of the situation,” Hayden says. “They’re aware of our concerns, but it helps them pay for their program. If someone offered $350,000 or $500,000 to televise one of our games, we’d certainly move it too.”

In response to Marshall’s Friday night game, some high schools in Huntington, have moved their games to Saturday for that weekend. The main reason is because they are having trouble finding enough people, especially security workers, to staff their games, since they’ll be at the Marshall game.

But the drop in attendance many coaches feared before the season started never materialized. School officials in Las Vegas said they noticed little change in their crowds when Nevada-Las Vegas played a Friday night game, and Bill Cherry, Athletic Director at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., says his home attendance was as strong as ever, if not a little stronger.

“The hard-core college people are going to watch the telecast on Friday night, but those people probably would not attend a high school game anyway,” he says. “I can’t speak to those areas where the games were held, but everybody I talked to around here said it really didn’t have an impact on them.”

Still, Cherry is uncomfortable with the addition of Friday night telecasts. “I do feel strongly that it was totally unnecessary for the colleges to do,” he says. “I know some schools have to scramble to make ends meet financially and I’m sure this was a way to do that. But it’s too bad a lot of college programs feel their success is measured by how much revenue they have.”

At this point, Hayden feels there’s probably only one way to eliminate Friday night telecasts. “Last year we all exhausted our resources from the standpoint of writing letters to presidents and athletic directors,” he says. “I think the people to talk to are the advertisers. Because if you can show them the kind of impact this has on high school football, the advertising folks might take a look at it and say, ‘Let’s have it on another night.’”

Some college administrators, however, are taking steps to reduce the impact on high school games whenever they can, such as when Tulsa University scheduled its season opener against Oklahoma for Friday, Aug. 30, one week before the high school season starts. “Their cooperation has been exemplary,” former Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association Assistant Secretary Bob Richardson told USA Today. “They were very clear that if this game had fallen on a Friday night when we were playing, they wouldn’t have done it.”

Still, high school administrators will keep a wary eye out for any changes in Friday night schedules. “If the number of games were to increase and the Southeastern Conference schools started playing on Friday night, it would hurt us,” Cherry says. “I’m just glad that group got together early on and said they wouldn’t do that—but I worry that could always change in the future.”