Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany ‘didn’t understand culture of Nebraska football,’ prep official says

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Jim Tenopir takes Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst and university chancellor Ronnie Green at their word. It’s the folks above them on the food chain who tend to get his blood pressure up.

“I guess the comments that [Nebraska] would not be hosting a Friday game are a partial victory,” Tenopir, executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, told Land of 10 this week. “If [the Cornhuskers] continue to have away games on Fridays, that’s still going to have a major impact on Nebraska high schools.

“As I told Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten, he really didn’t understand the culture of Nebraska football. If he thought an away game wasn’t going to impact us, he was wrong.”

High school football in Nebraska kicks off Thursday, but Tenopir can’t stop wondering what the heck’s going to happen on Sept. 29. That’s when the biggest box office — and broadcast — draw in the state, the Huskers football team, visits Illinois as part of the Big Ten’s media rights agreement that mandates that a handful of games be played during prime-time viewing windows on Fridays.

Prep Fridays.

“I don’t care if they were playing in Lincoln or Timbuktu, our people follow the Huskers,” Tenopir continued. “And even if they don’t go to the game, they’ll be watching it on television. We do have high school fans. And we have casual high school fans, who will be sitting in front of the television or are traveling to Big Ten games, if that’s an option. I continue to say Friday night is for high schools. Certainly, some of the powers that be have heard us, but …”

Money talks.

But so do fans. And tradition. Which is why at the board of regents meeting earlier this month, Green said he couldn’t “conceive” hosting a Friday night game at Memorial Stadium and didn’t expect many more Friday night road games for the Big Red, either.

“I have no reasons to doubt them,” Tenopir said.

“I think what [the Huskers] attempted to do, being new to the Big Ten Conference, I think they felt that they needed to do everything within their power to show that they were good members. And I think that they jumped in without understanding the consequences.”

Nearly 280 Nebraska high schools field football teams. Which means for more than two months, a typical Friday night involves 135 or so ballgames across the state. The week’s showcase event for a town. Or a county. Pep bands. Volunteers. Fundraisers.

In most places, especially the smaller ones, prep football isn’t just a diversion. It’s the community’s front porch. The lights come on, the hot dogs come out, and the tribe sings as one.

‘If he thought an away game wasn’t going to impact us, he was wrong.’

— NSAA executive director Jim Tenopir on Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany

“I’ve had recent communications with Shawn Eichorst. All of those communications have been very positive,” Tenopir said. “He’s certainly making an effort to minimize whatever conflicts there might be.

“I guess, from my perspective, the University of Nebraska has heard from a lot of people — and they’re trying to be not only a good Big Ten partner but also be a good partner with the high school activities in Nebraska. And we just hope that outcome is such that it doesn’t knock high school sports down a notch.”

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Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst (above) has tried to minimize the impact of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal on local high schools, Jim Tenopir says.
(Eric Francis/Getty Images)

Eichorst also reportedly told the university’s faculty senate in May that the Huskers could be asked to host a Friday night game once every three years. The bodies have to come from somewhere: Multiple outlets have reported that the Big Ten’s new six-year media rights deal requires at least six Friday games per season through the fall of 2022, although that apparently “counts” the annual Black Friday game between Iowa and Nebraska, which kicks off at 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 24.

“Now, I guess, I probably see things differently than a lot of people in that I can understand why Nebraska made the determination to go that direction,” Tenopir said. “I would [also] have to say right up front that Shawn Eichorst has been nothing but upfront and certainly proactive with us.

“[With the] situation here, I cannot fault Shawn Eichorst. They just didn’t realize the kind of impact they would have, or the pushback that there would be.”

The Big Red’s visit to Illinois is the only intraleague Friday tilt not played on a holiday weekend this fall. Of the three non-Labor Day, non-Thanksgiving weekend Friday contests on the Big Ten’s broadcast calendar, Illinois is involved in two, and Illini athletic director Josh Whitman told reporters at the league headquarters in May that he’d be fine with the program partaking in future prime-time Friday games — a position in stark contrast to most, if not all, of his league peers.

“There are [conversations] there that I’m not privy to,” Tenopir said. “One of the things that Commissioner Delany did say was this isn’t a money issue. Well, we can argue that until the cows come home.”

The Big Ten’s rights deal, which runs through the 2022-23 school year, reportedly is worth $2.64 billion. A second-tier rights deal with the Big Ten Network worth a reported $2.8 billion over 25 years runs through 2031-32. FOX Sports owns 51 percent of BTN and FOX Sports 1 is airing four of the six Friday contests in question, including the Huskers-Hawkeyes showdown.

Tenopir said he appreciates Eichorst’s public offer to make Memorial Stadium available for prep games on Thursdays or Saturdays when the Huskers are playing on Fridays, but …

“I’m not sure, No. 1, that that’s necessary,” he said. “And No. 2, I’m not sure that’s an appeasement for crowding out some high school football games on Friday nights.”

A survey of NSAA members showed that most schools still planned to keep their activities originally slated for Sept. 29 — football, volleyball, whatever — as scheduled, but that roughly three dozen events have changed either dates or times.

“Just because there were so many other conflicts with contests, other contests they had scheduled,” he said, “so that it wasn’t feasible or wasn’t sound for them to change to a different day or a different time.”

The NSAA is planning for a follow-up survey after seeing the fallout of whatever happens on Sept. 29.

Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

A total of 53 college football games in 2017 are slated for Fridays — the ACC and Pac-12 have scheduled eight apiece; the Big Ten, six; the Big 12, three; the SEC, none.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) recently adopted a resolution asking “that college and professional football teams should refrain from scheduling contests on Friday nights. Such restraint would be an investment in their own future success.”

“I know that in a meeting at the Big Ten [office in May] that they were blown away by the action they received, and I think it kind of caught some people off-guard,” Tenopir said.

“But I do think Shawn Eichorst and chancellor Green certainly have heard from a lot of people. And I think they’re also of the understanding that [they] don’t want to do anything to adversely impact high school sports. And the 29th of September is going to have a major impact in communities throughout our state.”

The post Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany ‘didn’t understand culture of Nebraska football,’ prep official says appeared first on Land of 10.

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