The Daily Northwestern

Pope: Exposure benefits will make Friday football worthwhile for Northwestern

Ben Pope, Reporter

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Northwestern will twice feature in the Big Ten’s new plan to play one Friday football game per week next season, traveling to Maryland on Friday, Oct. 13, and then hosting Michigan State on Friday, Oct. 27.

That announcement will surely not please coach Pat Fitzgerald, but it should satisfy all others with interests in the Wildcats’ success. The Friday primetime games will equate to a much-deserved exposure increase for the program, putting two matchups on national television that likely otherwise wouldn’t be and boosting attendance for the game against the Spartans.

On Monday, Fitzgerald struggled to contain his obvious distaste for the plan, worrying about how a shortened week between games would affect players’ health and force them to miss more class time.

“I’m also not naive to understand what the driving forces are behind that, and I get it, but it doesn’t mean I like it,” Fitzgerald said.

Those driving forces are unquestionably television networks. Starting in 2017, Fox will pay the Big Ten $240 million annually to televise half of the conference’s games, while ESPN will pay $190 million annually for the other half. Those agreements will benefit NU arguably more than it will powerhouse programs like Ohio State and Michigan, which were already on national television almost every week.

New programming — such as the Friday games, which are guaranteed to be televised on either ESPN or Fox — will give the Cats more exposure than ever before. For comparison, the team’s game against Michigan State this season was on Big Ten Network, and any matchup against Maryland, an even less historically-relevant opponent, would almost certainly have been too.

There’s evidence that such national exposure could translate into better recruiting. Data from 2010 to 2015 show that, for Big Ten teams, national television exposure, and not winning percentage, was a statistically significant predictor of recruiting success.

Additionally, night games, even on Fridays, will likely be more attractive to fans — and students in particular — than the all-too-common late morning kickoffs. The student section filled 2.5 of its three allotted sections for last year’s night games against Ball State and this year’s Nebraska; it barely filled more than one section for the 11 a.m. homecoming matchup with Indiana three weeks ago.

And what about players missing Friday classes? Sophomore safety Jared McGee said Monday he already misses Friday classes for travel and that the moved-up games will actually give him a more well-defined weekend to catch up on work.

Fitzgerald has legitimate concerns, but the Big Ten’s decision to add Friday games — as selfish and profit-driven as it may have been — will yield nothing but positives for NU’s football program.

Twitter: @benpope111