Let the record show that it was Ohio State taking the field in suburban Chicago that was the final tipping point.
Days after the Buckeyes demolished Northwestern in Evanston in a Friday night Big Ten matchup televised on the Big Ten network, National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff penned a letter than lands somewhere between a strongly worded statement and an outright attack on college football TV deals, asserting college football’s right and responsibility to be played on Friday night.
Niehoff’s statement, which was posted online and disseminated to the media on Wednesday, struck a hard line, insisting that Friday nights are for high school football, first and foremost, and must remain that way.
In fact, Niehoff didn’t need to do that, because one Ohio high school, Ursuline Academy near Cincinnati, did it for her before the Buckeyes game kicked off:
“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.”
As Niehoff noted, the NFHS national membership passed a resolution two years ago urging college and professional football teams to avoid scheduling contests on Friday nights. It presented an air of universality across high school football, but as any statement, lacked any legal or procedural teeth.
Now Niehoff and the organization are going further, pushing for all the conferences who have played games on Friday nights — Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, Atlantic Coast, AAC and Conference USA — proactively write Friday night games out of their next television contracts. That is a massive ask, and one that seems incredibly unlikely to come to fruition barring a massive boycott of all Friday night college football telecasts and live games.
That’s what Ursuline was getting at, of course. Their public petition came after what Niehoff’s letter called, “a number of high schools in Ohio” rescheduled their Friday night games to accommodate Ohio State. Not going to the Ohio State, mind you. Just watching it.
Niehoff has a terrific point and soap box to stand on. When people across America hear Friday night lights, they know exactly what is being talked about, and it isn’t Ohio State-Northwestern on a premium tier cable network.
At the same time, the proliferation of all sports networks means the need for compelling content is more ripe now than ever before. No content is more compelling, more successful at driving ratings and eyeballs for advertisers, than live football. For that reason, it seems unlikely that Niehoff’s letter will achieve it’s intended aim.
That doesn’t make it an ignoble pursuit, just one that has probably come a bit too late. With the number of college games currently played on Friday nights, as her own letter enumerated, the cat is fully out of the bag, and it’s going to be very difficult to stuff it back in. Whether that makes this letter a last riposte to fixing a wrong or a full Don Quixote tilting at windmills effort is truly up to the readers.