By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association said today that he is “disappointed and disheartened” by the Big Ten Conference announcement that it will play and televise football games on Friday nights beginning with the 2017 season.
Friday night football remains one of the strongest and longest-standing traditions in high school athletics, and the MHSAA has fought since the start of this century to keep Friday nights sacred against the overstepping of college football and the damage televised Big Ten games are now expected to cause to attendance and media coverage of the sport at the high school level.
MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts was contacted by both Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany and Michigan State University athletic director Mark Hollis before the decision was announced. Roberts said he is appreciative of Michigan State and University of Michigan’s low tolerance to be included in this venture – at most, both will host a Thursday or Friday night game during Labor Day weekend and play one Friday night away game during the remainder of a season – but remains frustrated that similar respect for high school football was not shown by the conference as a whole.
Michigan State has played Friday night games during Labor Day weekend the last six seasons, hosting five and playing at Western Michigan University in 2015. However, most Michigan high school games continue to be scheduled and played on the Thursday before Labor Day, relieving holiday travel conflicts in most communities. University of Michigan did play on the Thursday before Labor Day at University of Utah in 2015, but has not played on a Friday night of Labor Day weekend this decade. The Wolverines are one of five Big Ten schools without a Friday night game in 2017.
“We are saddened by this decision. We had hoped that the Big Ten Conference would stay above this. We think this cheapens the Big Ten brand,” Roberts said. “Fans won’t like this. Recruits won’t like this. And high school football coaches won’t like this.
“We are grateful that Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are trying to minimize the effects of this decision by the Big Ten. But overall, this is just the latest step by major college athletics in the pursuit of cash that is just crushing high school sports.”
The MHSAA has shown its opposition to the use of Friday nights for televised collegiate football games for more than 15 years, dating back to 2001 when the NCAA lifted its restrictions on Friday night telecasts, which at first led to the broadcasting of “mid-major conference” games on the same night traditionally reserved for high school athletes.
The MHSAA launched in 2001 its “Save Our Friday Nights” campaign to emphasize the role that Friday night high school athletic events play in communities and to rally MHSAA member schools to contact NCAA member school football coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners to voice their concerns.
In addition to causing lower attendance at events going up against Big Ten football games, Roberts anticipates that Friday night college games also will leave high school football as a secondary priority in many media markets. More than 80 radio stations statewide cover high school games regularly, but many also carry Michigan State or University of Michigan football. High school football could lose significant time on local TV highlights shows and in print and online coverage as well, as resources are diverted to cover a college game – potentially quieting significantly the positive buzz that comes from the typical high school football Friday night.
“Everyone knows that football is struggling right now,” Roberts said. “It’s getting a lot of bad publicity. Participation is declining. And now this; there couldn’t be worse timing.”
PHOTO: Grand Ledge takes on Okemos under the Friday night lights this season. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
With the first girls basketball games, wrestling matches and ski races joining the event schedule this week, an estimated 65,000 athletes will be competing across the 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.
Girls basketball tipped off Monday, Dec. 4, and the first boys and girls wrestling meets may take place Wednesday, Dec. 6. The first girls and boys ski races may begin Saturday, Dec. 9, when they will join competition already underway in boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls gymnastics, boys ice hockey, Upper Peninsula girls swimming & diving, and boys swimming & diving across both peninsulas.
The MHSAA winter schedule concludes this 2023-24 school year with the Girls Basketball Finals on March 23. This will be the first time since 2018-19 that the girls basketball tournament will finish the winter season, a switch made necessary by the start of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament March 22-23 and the possibility Michigan State University could host first-round games at the Breslin Center, where the MHSAA plays both its girls and boys basketball Semifinals and Finals.
Three more sports will incorporate changes this season related to MHSAA Tournament format or qualification.
For girls and boys bowling, Regionals will be conducted at eight sites – instead of the previous six – with each site qualifying to Finals its top two team finishers and the top seven singles for both girls and boys competitions. For the Team Bowling Finals, match play has been switched to a head-to-head, best-of-five Baker game format, whereas previously the format included regular games rolled by individual bowlers.
In girls gymnastics, an addition to criteria is expected to classify gymnasts more accurately as Division 1 (most skilled/experienced) or Division 2 for MHSAA Tournament individual competition. Athletes who have previously competed in a non-school event at either the Sapphire or Diamond Xcel levels would be required to compete at the Division 1 level for MHSAA postseason competition. These designations were added to other criteria used to determine an individual competitor’s division.
A change that led to much larger event fields at the Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals this fall is expected to produce the same at the LP Boys Swimming & Diving Finals this winter. Beginning this season, qualifying times have been determined based on the past five years of MHSAA race data, but also accounting for past numbers of qualifiers in each swim race – which should, as with the girls, allow for more boys to advance to the Finals in events where fields have not been full over the previous five seasons.
Additionally, the Competitive Cheer Finals will return to its traditional Friday-Saturday schedule, March 1-2 at McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University, with Division 1 on Friday and Divisions 2-4 on Saturday.
This regular season, wrestlers have two more opportunities to compete. Teams are allowed two more dual meets (between two teams only, not to be converted into three or four-team meets), bringing the total allowed days of competition to 16 with no more than eight of those allowed for tournament-type events where a wrestler competes more than twice.
At those tournament-type events, wrestlers may now compete in up to six matches on one day of competition (as opposed to the previous five matches per day) – but an athlete may not wrestle in more than 10 matches over two consecutive days.
An adjustment to the awarding of free throws in basketball is likely to be the most noticeable in-game change for any winter sport this season. One-and-one free throws have been eliminated, and fouls no longer will be totaled per half. Instead, fouls are totaled and reset every quarter, and two free throws are awarded with the fifth foul of each quarter.
The 2023-24 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 17 and wraps up with the Girls Basketball Finals on March 23. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:
Districts – Feb. 26, 28, March 1
Regionals – March 5, 7
Quarterfinals – March 12
Semifinals – March 14-15
Finals – March 16
Districts – March 4, 6, 8
Regionals – March 11, 13
Quarterfinals – March 19
Semifinals – March 21-22
Finals – March 23
Regionals – Feb. 23-24
Finals – March 1-2
Districts – Feb. 16-17
Regionals – Feb. 24
Finals – March 1-2
Regionals – March 2
Finals – March 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 19-28
Quarterfinals – March 2
Semifinals – March 7-8
Finals – March 9
Regionals – Feb. 12-16
Finals – Feb. 26
Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 17
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – Feb. 29
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 8-9
Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 7-8
Regionals – Feb. 14
Finals – Feb. 23-24
Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 10
Boys Regionals – Feb. 17
Girls Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 1-2
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.