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Monday, May 6, 2013
Why B1G has no November night games

By Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten on Monday completed its prime-time football schedule for 2013, a slate that includes a record 18 games, three more than the league's previous high of 15 in 2011.

But the hope of many Big Ten fans to have night football in November will have to wait at least another year. Although commissioner Jim Delany and several athletic directors said in February that the Big Ten is open to November night games -- the league previously has operated under an agreement with its television partners not to schedule prime-time games after Nov. 1 -- there are none on this year's schedule.

"It just wasn’t aligned this year," said Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner, who crafts the football schedule every year. "But moving forward, we'll have 'em. Whether it's in 2014 0r 2015, we'll see some."

The first thing to remember when it comes to prime-time games is that TV makes the selections and the participating schools also have to be on board. ESPN/ABC has six prime-time picks per season, and this year, it filled all of its slots with games before Nov. 1. That two Big Ten teams -- Michigan and Purdue -- host Notre Dame this season factored into the decisions, as did Michigan's recent willingness to play home games at night. The number of attractive Big Ten games scheduled for September or October -- like Wisconsin at Ohio State and Michigan at Penn State -- also shaped the selection process.

A 14-week season with two open dates per team might have been the biggest reason why the Big Ten has no November games in prime time. There will be only four Big Ten games in Weeks 7 and 9 this season.

"Instead of putting 48 [conference] games into nine weeks, you're putting them into 10 weeks," Rudner said. "It just thins out the inventory. ABC and ESPN have got to make sure that they have the games they need to have in the afternoon. ... [BTN] wanted their [November] games in the afternoon."

The 2014 season also lasts 14 weeks rather than 13, but Rudner didn't rule out November night games taking place next fall. Again, it depends on how many appealing games take place before the calendar flips, and whether TV can put good games into the other windows.

The Big Ten's November slate features some great matchups, but few that looked like realistic possibilities for prime time. For example, Ohio State and Michigan don't want The Game to be played at night (Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told the Columbus Dispatch he would be open to a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, rather than the traditional noon kickoff). Michigan and Michigan State meet Nov. 2 in East Lansing, but I've been told that neither team wants the rivalry game to take place at night. Nebraska-Michigan is another appealing November game this year, but Michigan has no interest in a second home night game. If the game were in Lincoln on the same date (Nov. 9), you might see it in prime time.

The Big Ten seems to be seeing the light about prime-time games, which drive today's college football. But night football isn't part of the Big Ten's culture as much as it is the SEC's or the Big 12's. The Big Ten continues to place a premium on the first two Saturday TV windows (noon ET and 3:30 p.m. ET), and so do its TV partners.

"Saturday afternoon is still the gold standard in college football," Rudner said. "Whether it's the noon window or the 3:30 window, that's pretty good real estate to be in."

Some still would argue the 8 p.m. window is Park Avenue. And despite this year's slate, the Big Ten hopes to sign a November lease in the near future.

"We're not going to shy away from it," Rudner said. "It just didn't happen this year."