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Big Ten's Friday night games 'extremely disappointing' to H.S. sports administrator

Andy Warner, the executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
Andy Warner, the executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

The Big Ten Conference football schedule's expansion to Friday nights drew heavy criticism from the head of Maryland's governing body of interscholastic athletics Wednesday.

Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association executive director Andy Warner called the league's decision to broadcast six Friday prime-time games for the next six seasons, announced Wednesday, an "extremely disappointing" challenge to high schools in Maryland and across the league's geographic footprint.

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"Friday night high school sports has been a long-standing tradition, and the telecasts of these collegians, and going into the Big Ten now ... is really going to challenge and have profound effects on the schools that rely on those gate receipts from those nights, that encourage community involvement and growing the school culture," Warner told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. "There's really nothing like it in our country — a Friday night at one of our high schools."

The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors in April 2001 removed a bylaw prohibiting college teams from televising games after 7 p.m. on Fridays. Within months, conferences such as the Mountain West Conference were broadcasting home games.

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Through its new television agreements with ESPN/ABC and Fox, beginning in 2017, the Big Ten Conference will be the biggest league to embrace Friday night lights. Among its 14 members is the flagship public university in 11 states stretching from Maryland to Nebraska.

"There was a longstanding tradition that Fridays were reserved for high schools and the collegians played on Saturday and the professionals on Sunday, and the collegians and the professionals have really started to challenge that more and more," Warner said.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany called Warner on Wednesday morning to inform him of the scheduling decision. Warner, a former Hereford student-athlete and Maryland graduate who succeeded longtime MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks in August 2015, said he was not consulted beforehand.

Friday nights have been the ideal showcases for student events, he said. Moving a fall football game, school play or cheerleading competition to Thursday, for instance, would mean challenging the NFL's "Thursday Night Football" games and ESPN's Thursday night college slate the night before the typical end of the school week.

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"You would think that we'd be all working toward a common goal of student participation, whether it's collegian student-athletes or high school student-athletes," Warner said. He added: "Being a part of the conversation is always nice, but you have to be asked to be part of the conversation."

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