tampabay.com

Schedule strays from Saturdays

They complain that they don't like it, but more schools are moving game days for TV.

By TIMES WIRES
Published September 1, 2006


DAYTON, Ohio - For the majority of his life since he played defensive end for Bo Schembechler at Miami University in Ohio, Joe Novak has been coaching football. The 60-year-old can even be called old-fashioned after stints at Miami, Illinois and Indiana bore in him a love of the college game in the heartland.

Now the 11th-year Northern Illinois University coach sees a trend that, he says, is eating away at the traditions he has helped to build. He's even participating.

On Sunday, Oct. 8, Miami will host NIU in a Mid-American Conference game at 8 p.m. on ESPN. It is one of 59 games ESPN will broadcast this season on its five channels that will not be played on Saturdays.

With each season, as more games are played on non-traditional days of the week, those who dislike the change become more concerned about the future of college football.

"We're prostituting our programs, in a way," Novak said. "And I hate to say that."

When ESPN approached Miami about moving its Saturday game against Northern Illinois - and homecoming, at that - to a Sunday, it wasn't an easy decision, Miami RedHawks athletic director Brad Bates said. But with the new NFL television agreement, ESPN no longer broadcasts the Sunday night professional game, and the network searched for a way to fill that spot with football.

"From the ticket office to my office to the alumni office, the response has probably been two-thirds positive," Bates said. "I didn't anticipate that."

To many, though, Sundays aren't the main concern. The idea of playing on Friday night - the customary bastion of high school football - is the big worry.

And that concern continues, as 10 Friday night college football games will appear on ESPN channels this season. The American Football Coaches Association has gone as far as taking an official stand against college football on Friday nights, said Grant Teaff, the AFCA executive director.

If his membership had its way, he said, college football would be restricted to Saturdays.

"I've not talked to one coach who really likes it," Teaff said of non-Saturday games.

Steve Specht, who coached Cincinnati St. Xavier to the Division I state championship last season, isn't bothered much by the University of Cincinnati hosting Pittsburgh on Friday, Sept. 8 for an ESPN2 audience. His team plays on Saturday, Sept. 9, against Lakewood St. Edward at Paul Brown Stadium.

For the teams playing on Friday night, though, Specht said there shouldn't be concern in Cincinnati about falling attendance.

"I honestly believe in this area people care a hell of a lot more about high school football than they do about college football," Specht said. "I think it hurts the college game playing on Friday nights around here."

While inching closer and closer to full-fledged Friday night football, some athletic directors are still drawing lines, they say. Pitt's Jeff Long has given the Big East Conference his position on putting a Friday night game at Heinz Field.

"My commitment has been we would not play a home game on a Friday night, and our conference has respected that," Long said.

Some conferences do whatever they can for the exposure. When Rick Chryst became MAC commissioner in 1999, he said that a topic at league meetings was whether it could maintain itself as a viable Division I-A conference. Since then, the MAC has been associated prominently with playing on weeknights, and Chryst says it has advanced the conference at warp speed.

"We're recruiting a quarterback in Houston, which we never do," said Novak, the NIU coach. "I go into his home, and I ask him why he wants to come to Northern Illinois. He looked at me with a straight face and said, 'Coach, it's the exposure.' If we weren't on TV, that would never happen."

Which day is Game day?

Breakdown of college football games on ESPN channels (includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN360 and games yet to be decided between ESPN and ABC)

EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK

ESPN broadcasts by day of the week:

Monday 1

Tuesday 6

Wednesday 4

Thursday 25

Friday 14

Saturday 45

Sunday 9

Non-Saturdays 59

THE USUAL SUSPECTS?

Schools with more than two non-Saturday games:

Boise State 3

Boston College 3

Bowling Green 3

Central Michigan 3

Fresno State 3

Louisville 4

Miami (Ohio) 3

Northern Illinois 3

Pittsburgh 3

Rutgers 3

Southern Miss 3

Toledo 4

West Virginia 4