Friday night football in New Jersey is mostly synonymous with high school games, but starting next fall, the State University will be joining in on the action.
The Big Ten revealed on Wednesday that the conference will be playing six Friday night games in 2017 as apart of its new television deal with ESPN/ABC and FOX. The conference's agreement to play games on Friday is expected to last through 2022, according to The Associated Press.
All six games are expected to be played in September and October and will be aired on ESPN and FOX. It is unknown if all teams will be involved or if a team will have more than one Friday night game on its schedule, but the 2017 lineup is expected to be released in the coming days.
“We have thought a lot about this,” said Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark D. Rudner. “(The six Friday night games) represent about 6 percent of the total home games that we will have in any year over the next six years. We think it is a great opportunity for significant exposure and more favorable use of national platforms for football.”
The announcement was met with push back from multiple teams across the Big Ten, mainly because of the implications a Friday night game could have on attendance and recruiting.
Penn State has said it will not host Friday night games and requested to play no more than one Friday night on the road.
"Penn State has informed the Big Ten that we will not host football games on a Friday night," read a statement from the university. "We are receptive to an occasional day game on the day after Thanksgiving. There are a variety of reasons why, among them, we know how important Friday night high school football is to hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth. In addition, we have considered the impact that a Friday night home football game would have on key community stakeholders."
Wisconsin said it will not play a Friday game every season and will only participate if the game takes place before Labor Day.
Going even further, Michigan is refusing to play any games on Friday night, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Rutgers has been asked by the conference to play one Friday night game per season, according to a press release from Athletic Director Pat Hobbs.
“One of the reasons Coach Ash was so attracted to Rutgers is the quality of high school football here in New Jersey," Hobbs said. "He's worked incredibly hard since his arrival to strengthen our ties with these programs. In its continuing efforts to advance the Big Ten, the conference has asked us to be open to playing one game a year on a Friday night, preferably Labor Day weekend. As a proud member of the Big Ten we understand our responsibility and will work with the conference while continuing to do everything we can to support high school football here in New Jersey.”
With the announcement coming smack dab in the middle of a game week, the Knights' head coach Chris Ash hasn't had much time — or energy — to ponder the effects of the change as he prepares to face Indiana this Saturday.
"I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t put a lot of thought into it," Ash said. "It was brought to my attention last week that that may be happening, thought about it for five minutes and just turned focus back to Indiana. Think the conference is one of the best conferences in America and we’re on the forefront of a lot of decisions and we trust and respect what the conference is doing, but other than that, haven’t put any thought into it. Focus is beating Indiana."
The change would add some form of variety to a predictable schedule in Ash's first year on the Banks. Barring a change in the status quo in its season finale against Maryland, Rutgers will have played 10 of its 12 games in the earliest time slot possible, kicking off at noon in Piscataway five times and in Columbus, East Lansing and likely College Park once each, with a pair of 11 a.m. EST kick-offs in Seattle and Minneapolis.
The only time the Knights have seen a change in the standard formula were in their two home night games against then-No. 3 Michigan — which ended in the worst blowout loss in a Big Ten conference game in 27 years — and in its matchup with No. 12 Penn State next weekend.
But regardless of when a game kicks-off, be it early morning, mid-afternoon or late evening, Rutgers has a routine ready. So if it has to be on a Friday night, Ash says "so be it."
"Doesn’t matter what time we kick-off," Ash said. "Night games are a little bit different because you got more times on Saturday’s to deal with your players for extra walk-throughs and meetings or whatever your routine is, but we got a routine and a plan for every kick-off, whether it’s (an afternoon) or a night game. It’s one that we’ve liked, our players are used to it, they know what to expect and we go out and do it. The biggest challenge from a timing standpoint would be if you play a lot of night games on the road, then it’s more of a challenge for the following week than it is the week of preparation."