NFHS, Fox Sports and the Fight Over Friday Night Lights | Sports Destination Management

NFHS, Fox Sports and the Fight Over Friday Night Lights

Mar 13, 2024 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Calling Fox Sports. High school football has a message for you and it’s this: Hands off Friday nights.

Recently, Fox announced it would be expanding its coverage of college football with a package of Friday night games starting next season. The schedule of games will include matchups from the Big Ten, Big 12 and Mountain West conferences.

"Fox is football, and our new Friday night package will make Fox the leader in America’s game throughout the weekend," said Michael Mulvihill, the platform’s  President of Insight and Analytics, in a statement. "We’ve built our collegiate business by seizing opportunities in previously underutilized timeslots, first with "Big Noon Saturday" and now on Friday nights. Our goal this fall is to have the No. 1 college football game on both Fridays and Saturdays and the top NFL game on Sundays."

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) does not care for Fox’s choice of nights, nor the fact that Mulvihill is openly bragging about it.

“While there have been more and more college games on Friday nights over the past several years, the plan to schedule games involving Top 10-level teams on the night traditionally reserved for high school football is extremely disappointing,” stated Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the NFHS in a national announcement. “Except for the Labor Day weekend and the Friday after Thanksgiving, the four to five games on Friday nights in previous years have been mainly on cable and not pitted Top 10 teams. This plan, in essence, would make Friday night a second day of regular college football programming for Fox.”

And Fox, she points out, hardly needs extra programming, whereas high school football is an integral part of the fabric of the community.

“On any given Friday night in the fall, there are about 7,000 high school football games being played in communities throughout our country. But they are more than just games – they are symbols of school and city pride and prime opportunities for people to stand together while cheering on their hometown squads. Simply put, Fox’s plans stand as a threat to these impactful community events.”

NFHS, Fox Sports and the Fight Over Friday Night LightsIt's an issue that has reared its ugly head before, back in 2017. And back then, NFHS adopted a resolution that urged schools and teams at the college and professional levels to honor the high school’s “Friday night Lights” tradition, and to schedule their games on other days. The NFHS membership, made up of state high school associations in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, adopted the resolution, the full text of which can be found here.

And as it turns out, even seven years later, colleges aren’t necessarily in favor of it either.

The NHFS announcement quoted an article on the website, in which an Ohio State spokesperson said the program is far from excited to potentially have games on Friday due to the logistics of student-athletes’ schedules and the impact on recruiting:

"They do present challenges, namely: significant all-day traffic concerns on a Friday with classes in session and our stadium on campus; and the fact we don't want to go head-to-head with the rich tradition of Ohio high school football on Friday nights," the representative said.

In addition, former Indiana University football coach Tom Allen, a former high school coach himself, had strong feelings about playing on Friday nights: “ . . . Friday night is for high school football, bottom line. I’ll say it ‘til I’m blue in the face, ‘til somebody tells me to shut up. Then I’ll probably say it again. Friday night is for high school football.”

And as news of the expected uptick in televised college games on Friday nights has circulated, it was a reminder of recent trends in that direction. According to the Austin American-Statesman, when Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark announced last fall that the conference was looking into playing more games on Friday nights, Austin Westlake High School football coach Tony Salazar told the American-Statesman that college programs should “stay out of the domain of high school athletics.”

It's a problem that seems to be in a continuous loop. Large events, such as those at the college level (and the pro level), as well as tournaments in the local area that cross over and compete with times for scheduled high school events, put high schools in an awkward place. Increased traffic congestion, demand upon local restaurants and businesses on the nights of games and more, reduce high school sports to what has become pejoratively known as the ‘stepchild’ status.

“High schools should not have to compete with colleges for that revered and time-honored space of Friday night,” notes Niehoff. “In the past, some high schools have had to move games to earlier in the day or to other days of the week to accommodate conflicts with colleges playing on Friday nights. This should NEVER be the case. Instead of flooding every day of the week with college football games, we urge the major conferences and TV networks to leave Friday nights alone, because in the fall, those nights should be spent in the stands, not on the couch.”

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