Football

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When Colleges Start Co-Opting Friday Night Lights, High Schools Fight Back

30 Oct, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Really, college football?

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) can pretty much be heard grinding its teeth over the ever-increasing encroachment of university games being scheduled on Friday nights, traditionally reserved for high school ball.

For the record, this is an issue that first came to national attention in 2017 when more than 50 major college football games were scheduled to be played on Friday nights. It came up again the following year and it’s coming up now as well, so much so that the NFHS has passed yet another resolution on the matter.

Not that it’s really expected to change things. Even when, last year, college coaches voiced their objections to Friday night games, the issue continues.

And make no mistake, it’s a significant obstacle. For many high school sports, whose schools not only enjoy but depend upon the buy-in from the local community, having attention siphoned away by larger organizations is problematic—particularly when these include nationally televised games.

An example took place just last week, during Ohio State’s 52-3 (really) win over Northwestern. And the NFHS was quick note there were three other FBS (I-A) matchups, including an Atlantic Coast Conference game between Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Through the first eight weeks of the season, there have been about 25 major college football games on Friday night. The NFHS also noted, “A number of high schools in Ohio moved their games earlier in the hope of finishing before the start of the Ohio State-Northwestern game. Others moved their games to Thursday or Saturday. At least one school – Ursuline Academy in greater Cincinnati – urged its fans to not watch the Ohio State game, pleading,

Please make a statement to Ohio State by NOT watching their Friday night game this week. Friday nights are for HS football. Let’s keep it that way. Support your local team. We play Boardman, and would love to have you in our stands, but that’s not the point. Support HS football.”

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 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.

So what is the take-away for event planners of travel sports (including football) that move into town for a weekend – are they part of the solution or part of the problem? Early dialogue, rather than a unilateral decision, seems to be the best approach. Planners of events that will take place on Fridays during the fall football season may want to discuss with the local sports commission whether their event will be held in the same area and at the same time as high school games.

If this is the case, event owners should find out whether this same place/same time booking stands to create problems for families going to either the football game or the travel sports event. For example, does the sports commission anticipate traffic or parking issues? How about congestion at local gathering spots afterwards?

If there will be problematic crossover, start now to help design workarounds. It is, after all, a way of being an asset to the community – not just in terms of economic impact, but as a partner to longstanding sports programs in the community.

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