Gophers running back Rodney Smith runs a touchdown back on a kickoff in the second half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at TCF Bank Stadium. (Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
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The Big Ten will play six Friday night football games a year starting in 2017 and continuing through at least 2022, the conference announced Wednesday.
Not every school wants to host those games, though.
The Friday games are being added to the conference’s television agreements with ESPN/ABC and Fox, Senior Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner said. No team will play more than one Friday night home game a year.
The Big Ten already has had Friday night games on Labor Day weekend. Those games will continue and be counted among the six each year. Iowa and Nebraska also play each other the day after Thanksgiving.
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Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle wrote in an email to The Associated Press, "We will play the schedule assigned to us by the Big Ten."
In a statement, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez says the department is "open" to hosting games, but has not committed.
"There has been a lot of dialogue within our conference about the feasibility of playing a very limited number of Friday night games. As a former high school and college coach, I have great respect for the tradition and importance of Friday night high school football in the state of Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest. As a conference, we felt it was the right time to explore additional opportunities for exposure on Friday nights on a limited basis.
"At Wisconsin, we are open to hosting games at Camp Randall on the Friday night prior to Labor Day weekend in selected years but have not committed to hosting Friday night games at any other time."
Penn State announced it wouldn’t play at home on a Friday night, and Commissioner Jim Delany told the Chicago Tribune that Michigan has said no to playing home or away on a Friday night.
"We fully support the Big Ten’s scheduling decisions as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. "With our large fan base, Michigan fans and alumni travel significant distances to attend games, making Saturdays our preferred day for all football games."
Ohio State is willing to host once every three years, but only when the Friday falls during fall break on the academic calendar. Iowa and Michigan State don’t want to host except on Labor Day weekend. Nebraska and Indiana have agreed to host once every three years.
"It does create additional opportunities for certain programs that heretofore have not had that kind of national prime-time exposure on Saturday night to maybe have that on Friday night," Rudner said.
Among those are Illinois and Purdue, which say they’re on board with hosting Friday night games.
"There are traditionalists who say Friday is for high school football, but if we can get our product out there on national television when all eyes are on us, that’s great for Purdue," Boilermakers spokesman Matthew Rector said.
The Big Ten plans to announce the 2017 Friday night schedule within the next four to seven days.
To give schools adequate time to address logistical challenges, the Friday night games will be announced in early October of the preceding year. The 2018 Friday games, for example, will be announced in October 2017.
Friday night college football has become more common in recent years. There were 53 games on that night in 2014, 63 in 2015 and 65 this year. The Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference are among the leagues that play some games on Fridays.
Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson, noting the importance of high school football across the state, said his school would agree only to an occasional home day game on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said "significant operational" issues make Friday night football in Happy Valley a no go. Barbour pointed out that fans generally travel more than an hour to get to the stadium. She also said shutting down the school on a Friday was not an option.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said coach Lovie Smith and the football office emailed high school football coaches in the state explaining the situation.
"There is no sacred day of the week for any sports event anymore," Brown said, noting a lot of high schools play on Saturdays.
Rudner said Delany called the executive directors of the state high school athletic associations in each of the 11 Big Ten states to personally explain the conference’s decision.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said even though his school agreed to host Friday night games on a limited basis, the Big Ten’s move was necessary to increase exposure.
"We avoided it for years," Smith said. "We thought we could do it in a limited way, which is why we established some parameters around it."