Big Ten

Big Ten announces six Friday-night games for 2017, with Northwestern playing twice


Big Ten announces six Friday-night games for 2017, with Northwestern playing twice

The Big Ten's foray into Friday-night football begins next season, and now we know which teams will be playing and when.

Many denizens of social media — not to mention head coaches and athletics departments — were downright furious with the news that a small number of games featuring Big Ten teams would be played on select Friday nights beginning next season. The conflicts with high school football seemed to be the main reason behind the furor. Though other conferences have been doing this for a while now, and they're still standing.

Anyway, no matter how you feel about Friday-night football in the Big Ten, it's happening. And the conference announced the six-game 2017 Friday-night slate Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, Sept. 1: Washington at Rutgers
Friday, Sept. 1: Utah State at Wisconsin
Friday, Sept. 8: Ohio at Purdue
Friday, Sept. 29: Nebraska at Illinois
Friday, Oct. 13: Northwestern at Maryland
Friday, Oct. 27: Michigan State at Northwestern

Most notably, Northwestern is playing in two of these games, traveling to play Maryland and playing host to Michigan State. That's two Friday-night games in a three-week span. Surely, Pat Fitzgerald isn't happy about that, which can be gleaned from his comments disparaging Friday-night college football on Monday.

Now, if you're still fuzzy on the reasoning behind the conference's decision to play these games on Friday nights, it's all about exposure and all about the Benjamins (baby).

On your typical college football Saturday there about eleventy billion games going on, and the ones on the biggest networks draw the most eyeballs, which in turn draws the most money. Even Power Five conference teams get buried on channels like ESPN U because of the sheer volume of high-quality football going on at once.

On Friday nights, that's not a problem, and a far greater number of viewers can watch those games because they're not competing with a full schedule. Sometimes these Friday-night games will be the only college football game on, meaning a bigger audience, more exposure and more money.

And for the smaller programs in the Big Ten, that's a great opportunity. Teams like Rutgers, Purdue, Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern don't automatically get large national attention that comes free and easy for the Michigans and Ohio States of the world. Well, play on a Friday night, and all the attention goes to you.

Plus there's a very good chance that a stadium atmosphere on a Friday night will be far better than at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It's good news for university students who want to experience a primetime atmosphere, something that doesn't come around too often in places like College Park and West Lafayette.

It's understandable, of course, that coaches would be upset about conflicts with high school football. To them, the exposure won't apply to potential recruits, who will be busy playing in games. And campus visits for recruits can't happen on a Friday night, again because those kids are busy with their own games.

And then there's the logistical issues that come with swarming a campus with football fans on a weekday when classes are in session, classes that could contain some of the student-athletes tasked with playing in these games, depending on their schedules.

Fans, at least those who got mad on social media, seem to be mostly concerned with the "tradition" of playing on Saturdays and Saturdays only (again, something dispatched of by other conferences with no disastrous effects), though some fans, too, certainly have conflicts with high school football.

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

NBC Sports Chicago

Illinois came close to adding Divison I hockey team before coronavirus spread

After trying to add a Division I men's ice hockey program at the University of Illinois for nearly three years, the school was finally close. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Chicago Tribune reported Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman told media on Monday that the university was forced to "hit the pause button" on the hopes and dreams of alums, sports fans and young hockey players with midwest ties. 

“Clearly with everything that’s changed here in the last six weeks, it makes sense for us to hit the — at least the short-term — pause button on that project while we wait and let things unfold in the weeks and months ahead,” Whitman said.

According to Whitman, U of I was about a month away from forming the program before the pandemic changed things.

The state of Illinois produces the fourth-most college hockey players but has no Division I hockey team yet. 

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Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.