Coaches, Players Split On Night Games

When the topic of primetime college football came up at the Big Ten media kickoff in Chicago, players expressed no qualms. The same was not true of at least a pair of coaches whose teams will be at the center of several night contests this fall, however.

In general, football and moonlight do not make strange bedfellows. Monday Night Football is in its fourth decade of bringing the NFL into homes across the country, and fans have flocked to high school fields on Friday nights for even longer than that.

In between, however, the issue of night football gets much murkier, especially when it involves the Big Ten.

While conferences such as the SEC and Pacific 10 seemingly embraced primetime long ago, and recent years have seen lower-profile conferences such as the Mid-American and Mountain West and even BCS conferences the ACC and Big East agree to play on weeknights in exchange for all-important national exposure, the Big Ten remained largely entrenched on Saturday afternoons.

Despite agreeing to fill one-fourth of the initial 12-week schedule of ABC Saturday Night Football last year, the number of Big Ten night contests remained relatively low.

The same will not be said of 2007. Eighteen contests are already pegged for primetime, and more are to come as the Big Ten Network picks up more games as the season goes on.

Not that you will hear Marcus Freeman or Vernon Gholston complain. Both told reporters in Chicago this week they enjoy night games.

"I don't like getting up real early in the morning, so night games are definitely what I prefer," Gholston, an Ohio State defensive end, said. "A lot of people say just sitting around thinking about the game all day kind of tires you out, but no, I like to relax a little bit during the day, catch a couple of other games that are going on, then come out and play your game."

His teammate Freeman, a linebacker, agreed that the day can wear on while waiting for the pads to start popping, but added, "The thing about playing under the lights is it's a fun experience. That's something we enjoy."

With the Buckeyes scheduled for three night contests this season – at Minnesota Sept. 29, at Purdue Oct. 6, and at Penn State Oct. 27 – the enthusiasm of Freeman and Gholston figures to come in handy, especially if it is shared by their teammates.

The opposing coach in one of those contests, Purdue's Joe Tiller, does not share their sentiments, however.

"I think every college football game should be played at one o'clock in the afternoon, all year long," Tiller said. "But, that's not to be, and we understand it."

Besides hosting Ohio State, Purdue is also scheduled for two more night games. The Boilermakers open the season at Toledo Sept. 1 and travel to Minnesota three weeks later.

While he does not question the fact primetime games have their positives and can tend to be a necessary evil, he would prefer to keep them at a minimum.

"We're all trying to make a living, whether with the media or the television team or whatever, so I know that we have to have some give and take, I just don't like the idea that we're doing it three times."

His initial complaint about evening contests is the disruption to his team's weekly routine, a bother felt more acutely by the visiting team because its routine is even more out of whack.

Worse than worries about a team going stale on game day, however, are concerns with how night games hinder progress in game planning for the following week because a majority of that task takes place on Sundays.

"If you had to do that back-to-back, that would really be tough," he concluded.

If Tiller has any doubts as to the validity of his statement, he will be able to consult Tressel by the end of this season after the Buckeyes travel to Minneapolis and then West Lafayette on consecutive weeks.

Although his team reversed a mini-slump in night games by beating Texas and Iowa under the lights last season, Tressel acknowledged homefield advantage is turned up a bit in those situations, and louder, perhaps more inebriated fans are not the only concerns.

"Sitting around that hotel, how do you keep fresh, emotionally and mentally? I think it's harder," Tressel said, before mentioning with tongue in cheek his perceived ability to coach in night games took an upswing last year with the victories in Austin and Iowa City.

"You try to keep them as busy as you can without wearing them out, but it is what it is. We know that's going to make a difficult away schedule we have even more difficult, but we're aware."

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