Ohio State could cut into prep games
By Steve Ruman
Poland High athletic director Brian Banfield says he can likely count on one hand the number of Ohio State games he has missed over the course of the last two decades.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any,” Banfield said. “Maybe there was one or two, but I’m not even really sure about that. I’m a fanatic, and if the Buckeyes are playing I am tuning in.”
Next Oct. 18 when Ohio State travels to Northwestern to take on the Wildcats, Banfield will only have access to occasional live updates via his cell phone. That’s because the Buckeyes game will coincide with Poland’s road game at Jefferson.
Ohio State on Tuesday announced that its game at Northwestern, originally slated to be played on a Saturday, was moved ahead one day to accommodate the Big Ten’s Friday Night television package.
This will be Ohio State’s first-ever Friday night conference game. It will also be the school’s first Friday game since the Big Ten Conference’s decision in 2016 to begin playing a handful of Friday night games. At the time, the conference determined that six games each season — three in-conference games and three non-conference games — would be played on Friday nights.
Banfield, along with other area athletic directors and coaches, are not pleased Ohio football fans will have to choose between the Buckeyes and their favorite high school team.
“I’m sad, and a little shocked that Ohio State would allow this to happen,” Banfield said. “Like most others, I have always viewed Friday nights as reserved for high school football. You would like to think that in this region, the college game wouldn’t interfere.
“We’re going to be playing in Ashtabula County. If that (OSU-Northwestern) game has conference title or playoff implications, or if the weather is even slightly bad, fans are going to stay home and tune in to college football.”
Struthers coach Curt Kuntz believes the move “displays a lack of respect for the high school game,” and worries that the six-game Big Ten Friday night package will expand in the future.
“This is simply greed taking over the game,” Kuntz said. “Look, I get it if the Mid American Conference or other mid-majors want to play on Fridays because of exposure. But the Big Ten doesn’t need gimmicks. People schedule weddings around Ohio State games. You could schedule Ohio State on a Sunday morning, and they’ll have an audience.
“I know this much, if Jim Tressel was still at Ohio State, this wouldn’t happen. He understands and respects the game. You would think Ohio State would be at the forefront in expressing its displeasure with Friday night games.”
Niles’ 2019 schedule includes a week eight home game against Hubbard. It will also be senior night at Bo Rein Stadium. Red Dragons coach Jim Parry, an avid Buckeyes fan, said the “money grab” by the Big Ten can hurt the sport at a time when it needs cooperation from all levels.
“It used to be that Saturday was reserved for the college game, Sunday for the NFL, and Fridays were sacred for high school football,” Parry said. “We’re all looking for ways to defend and grow the sport, and this doesn’t help.”
In recent years, some area high school basketball games were moved because their tip-off times conflicted with Ohio State bowl games. Niles athletic director Marc Fritz doesn’t see such a scenario playing out next fall.
“Football is a whole different animal, it’s not as easy to reschedule games just like that,” Fritz said. “Maybe if this was Ohio State versus Michigan you look at playing on a Saturday. But as it is, we’re just going to have to deal with the fact that we’ll be competing against Ohio State in terms of fans.”
Austintown athletic director James Penk said he isn’t worried about the fans, who he says “will find a way to keep tabs on both the high school and college games at the same time.” His concern is with the high school players.
“Ohio State and the Big Ten should be doing whatever it can to reach out and try to bring in that next generation of players and fans, and instead it is creating a situation where the high school players miss the [college] games,” Penk said. “The colleges wouldn’t be happy if the NFL decided to play on Saturdays.”
Western Reserve coach Andy Hake says that “Friday should remain reserved for high school football,” and hopes that the current package of Big Ten Friday games doesn’t expand in the future.
“Friday night lights is a sacred tradition in Ohio,” Hake said. “How much money do these college programs need? And you know that if television ratings are good, it’s only going to open the door for more televised Friday games in the future.”