Big Ten

Big Ten facing Friday-night blowback: Penn State refuses to host, Michigan won't play at all

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Big Ten facing Friday-night blowback: Penn State refuses to host, Michigan won't play at all

The Big Ten's decision to play some games is not going over super well with some folks, but it's not just fans on Twitter who are upset with the conference's choice to play six games featuring league teams — three in-conference games, three non-conference games — on Fridays beginning next season.

The Tribune's Teddy Greenstein broke the news of the Big Ten's foray into Friday nights Wednesday and included a bit about Michigan straight-up refusing to participate in Friday-night football.

Michigan athletics director Warde Manuel released this statement later on Wednesday evening.

"Michigan is not scheduled to appear in Friday-night football games. We fully support the Big Ten's scheduling decisions as well as conference peers who are able to play on Friday nights. With our large fan base, Michigan fans and alumni travel significant distances to attend games, making Saturdays our preferred day for all football games."

Not long after the initial news broke, Penn State released a statement, putting its foot down when it comes to hosting any future Friday games.

"Penn State has informed the Big Ten that we will not host football games on a Friday night. We are receptive to an occasional day game on the day after Thanksgiving. There are a variety of reasons why, among them, we know how important Friday-night high school football is to hundreds of communities across the Commonwealth. In addition, we have considered the impact that a Friday-night home football game would have on key community stakeholders. We support the conference's desire to expand exposure for Big Ten football on national platforms, providing additional content at high-demand times, and we've agreed to play no more than one away game each year on a Friday night."

Now, like most controversies, big and small, there are pros and cons to both sides, most of them laid out in that statement from Penn State.

The conference wants some games — and really, this is a very small amount of games — played on Fridays to avoid them being lost in the shuffle during a crazy-busy college football Saturday, a day where even Power Five conference teams are relegated to less-viewed channels because of the sheer volume of high-quality content on at the same time. If you play a game on a Friday night, and especially if you're a team that doesn't automatically get high exposure, you get far more eyeballs on your game than you otherwise would. That's called maximizing your audience, and it makes plenty of sense. Other Power Five conferences like the Big 12 and Pac-12 regularly play weeknight games.

Now, while fans are quick to be unhappy because of the perceived "tradition" that playing on a day other than Saturday "ruins," there are reasons the coaches and teams and schools would be unhappy, as well. The main reason programs would be unhappy about playing on a Friday night is the conflict with high school football, mostly the one that impacts recruiting: High school players can't make campus visits while they're playing in high school football games, nor can they watch the games on TV. Also, college football games are typically day-long affairs for fans, players and others attending or involved. Bringing that atmosphere to a school on a day when students, not to mention some of those players, have classes scheduled would obviously cause issues.

Interestingly, Ohio State is not taking the same stance as Michigan and Penn State, despite Ohio Stadium being similarly huge and the program being the juggernaut that it is. Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith told the Dispatch's Tim May on Wednesday that the Buckeyes will host a Friday-night game once every three years, the first of which will not be in 2017. Seemingly, though, Ohio State will get to pick which Friday it hosts a game, as Smith told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg that it would only occur during the school's autumn break in the second week of October.

Meanwhile, Michigan State tweeted the following. The Spartans have been hosting their season-opening games against non-conference opponents on the first Friday of the season for a while now.

The interesting thing this presents is that historic powers like Michigan and Penn State seem to think themselves able to tell the conference no to these Friday-night games. What happens, though, if Purdue or Maryland or Illinois or Rutgers don't want to play on Friday? Can they be equally dismissive? It would seem to make sense to grow the brands of those programs in front of larger-than-normal viewing audiences, but the potential negative impact on recruiting could also be a real concern.

Sure enough, as Greenstein indicated later Wednesday, Illinois and Northwestern both are open to Friday-night games.

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

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USA TODAY

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.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.