Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, July 5, 2001


Prepsters not
thankful it’s Friday

High schools fear fallout
from college football games

By Jason Kaneshiro

High school sports associations in Hawaii and on the mainland are flagging the NCAA for encroachment after it allowed college games to be played on Friday nights.

Friday nights have traditionally been reserved for prep battles, and high school officials fear Friday night college games will not only bite into attendance in the towns hosting the games, but that fans around the country will choose to stay home to watch a national telecast rather than spend the night in the bleachers.

"It will have a definite impact on high school football in terms of attendance," said Clay Benham, executive secretary of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. "We are totally disappointed that the NCAA decided to allow it."

The rule hit home last month when University of Hawaii officials announced they would move the Warriors' game against Fresno State from Saturday, Oct. 27 to Friday, Oct. 26 as part of ESPN's television package with the Western Athletic Conference.

"It came down to we either play on Friday night or ESPN pulls the deal for the whole conference," said UH associate athletic director Jim Donovan.

The UH date change forced the Oahu Interscholastic Association to reschedule a playoff game at Aloha Stadium to Oct. 25 and league executive secretary Dwight Toyama expects the move to Thursday will affect attendance. The ILH scheduled its games for campus fields that day and will not be affected directly.

"I know for the playoffs we definitely do better on Friday nights," Toyama said.

"There's no law," he added. "But it was a respect thing where the colleges stayed out of Friday nights because that was basically dedicated to high school football."

Toyama said about 80 percent of the league's regular-season games are played on Fridays, which follows the national norm. The ILH played 60 percent of its games on Fridays last season.

"We always treat Fridays as our biggest drawing nights," Benham said. "We schedule most of our big games on Friday nights."

The NCAA's removal of its Friday night prohibition drew criticism from both the National Federation of State High School Associations and the American Football Coaches Association. Neither group was consulted by NCAA officials before the ban was lifted, and both hope to have it reinstated next season.

SIX MAJOR CONFERENCES -- the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big 10, Big 12, Pacific 10 and Big East -- have pledged to keep Fridays off-limits. But programs without the luxury of regular national television exposure have been eager to fill the Friday night slot.

In addition to the UH-FSU game, ESPN is scheduled to televise another WAC matchup on Nov. 23. UNLV of the Mountain West Conference will play two Friday games televised by ESPN2, while the Mid-American Conference championship game is scheduled for Nov. 30.

"The exposure is important for the conference's long-term survival," Donovan said.

"We're very sensitive (to the Hawaii high schools' concerns)," he added. "We have some of the best high school football in the nation and we're aware they depend on their gate receipts. That's something we're cognizant of and we hope to keep a balance between what we have to do as a conference while minimizing the impact on the high schools."

Toledo and Minnesota sacrificed a national television appearance last month by moving their game from Friday, Aug. 31 to Thursday, Aug. 30. The game was to be shown on ESPN2, but high schools in Ohio and Minnesota balked at competing with the colleges on the night of their season openers.

And although the Friday market has been limited to a handful of dates so far, high school administrators hope to kill the trend before it threatens to choke off attendance at prep football games.

"Moving collegiate contests to Fridays would ultimately have a very serious detrimental effect on high school football," said NFHS executive director Robert Kanaby. "We hope the colleges and universities will see that this kind of decision is very shortsighted."

High school associations across the country fear that this season's modest offering of college games will grow to include marquee matchups commanding national audiences. And Donovan said the Friday night slot may become more attractive to the big conferences if they see the potential for a big payday.

"I do think the other conferences will want to get in on it if the ratings are there," he said.

CHARLES ADAMS, head of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, said his leagues would be devastated if the ACC decided to play on Friday nights. He added that colleges electing to play on Fridays could face retribution from high schools.

"Our coaches have gotten together and said if you play on Friday night you will not be welcome on our campuses to recruit," said Adams.

But others, including recent National High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee and former all-pro tight end Keith Jackson, believe the core of the high school crowd will always remain intact with or without college competition.

"High school football is so personal that the individuals that have kids or grandkids that are playing, uncles and aunts, they're going to be at the Friday night (high school) game," said Jackson, who played his high school football in Little Rock, Ark. "I don't think that it's going to deteriorate much of what the crowd would have been. You're still going to get those family members who are connected with it."

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