By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) Football used to be so simple.
Fridays belonged to high schools, colleges owned Saturdays and the pros played their games on Sundays – plus one Monday night affair.
Nowadays, that’s all changed as football has crept so far across the calendar that during the season you can now find a college or pro game on TV almost any night of the week. And for the most part, I’m OK with that.
As long as none of those nights happens to be a Friday, an evening that should always be reserved for high schools.
But on Monday, Illinois football disagreed when it announced that it will tread onto prep turf by moving its 2015 season opener against Kent State at Memorial Stadium from Saturday, Sept. 5, to Friday, Sept. 4.
The game will be televised on BTN, and while a start time is TBD, I’m not sure it really matters. Because no matter what hour the ball is kicked, the switch will still be a mistake – for multiple reasons, none of which Illinois or BTN seem to recognize.
On Monday night, Illini coach Tim Beckman spoke during The News-Gazette Sports Page radio show in Champaign and justified Illinois moving its opener to Friday by saying, “We have the opportunity to play on national television, and a lot of folks will be able to see us.”
But which folks exactly, Tim?
Are they the ones who really matter? And what’s the true benefit of the move?
Fact is, with the current state of the Illini program, Kent State-llinois is hardly must-see TV for casual football fans in-state, let alone those nationwide. It’s also not even the lone Big Ten game scheduled for the evening of Sept. 4, with Michigan State hosting Western Michigan in a more interesting matchup and one that may or may not conflict with Illinois’ start time.
Regardless of Illinois’ eventual TV time slot, we know who won’t be watching the game – prospective recruits, as the vast majority of them will be playing in their own games that Friday.
The change also forces Illinois football fans to make the unenviable choice between watching the Illini or supporting their local high school team. And considering that prep football is the lifeblood for the college game, it’s foolish for the latter to do anything to diminish the former.
Beyond the high school-related issues, Illini season ticket holders from Chicagoland or any other area that’s a lengthy drive from Champaign-Urbana are also getting the shaft because it will be extremely challenging for to get to Memorial Stadium in time for kickoff without at least taking Friday afternoon off from work.
I can already tell you that I don’t have an appetite to fight the Labor Day weekend traffic heading out of Chicago and then driving an additional 130 miles south to watch a lackluster football game – especially after I’ve just worked all day. I might, however, make that drive when I’m fresh on a Saturday.
In a statement Monday, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said of the move, “We are always exploring new ideas on improving our in-game atmosphere and trying to make the games as enjoyable as possible.
“We are introducing an exciting new tailgating area on the west side of Memorial Stadium this season, and an early-season night game is a terrific way to allow our fans to experience that area. We think this is a great way to kickoff the Labor Day weekend.”
An even greater way would be to let fans experience the tailgating area on a Saturday, when there’s ample time to enjoy it both before and and after the game. A Friday night game doesn’t offer either.
And for the Illini, it should be lights out.