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Big Ten to have football games on Friday nights starting next season

The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will broadcast six football games on Friday nights starting next season, part of an expanded package of prime-time games tied to a landmark media rights deal signed this summer.

Oct 22, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; A general view of Beaver Stadium during the third quarter between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Penn State defeated Ohio State 24-21. (Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 22, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; A general view of Beaver Stadium during the third quarter between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Penn State defeated Ohio State 24-21. (Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will broadcast six football games on Friday nights starting next season, part of an expanded package of prime-time games tied to a landmark media rights deal signed this summer.

The conference has yet to formally announce its new rights contract, but Wednesday's announcement acknowledged its expanded partnerships with ESPN, ABC and Fox. The addition of Fox as a broadcast partner will give the Big Ten 18 prime-time games over the three networks, with a third of those games scheduled on Friday night. The total triples the number of prime-time conference games aired in previous seasons by ESPN and ABC.

The Friday night games will be televised on ESPN and Fox. The 2017 slate of Friday night games is expected to be announced within the next week, according to Big Ten Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner.

"We looked at what other conferences are doing, we looked at the games that are being played on Friday night, and recognized that there has been an upward trend in games being played on Friday night," Rudner said, adding that the 18 games represents roughly 6 percent of the annual average of 95 televised Big Ten football games.

Rudner noted that the number of Friday night games across the college football landscape has grown considerably over the past three years, from 53 in 2014 to 63 in 2015. The number grew to 65 in 2016, Rudner said, featuring games from both the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision.

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"We recognized that the Pac-12, the ACC and the Ivy League have really gotten into Friday night over the last three years ... they've had 10 or more games on Friday night over the past 10 years. For us, we saw it as an opportunity for significant exposure and more favorable use for national platforms for Big Ten football. More prime-time exposure for more programs."

In 2017 specifically, Rudner said the league will schedule games on the Friday before Labor Day and the Friday after Thanksgiving, with an additional four games being slotted in September and October. The rest of 12 games will not played after the first week in November, said Rudner, who added that the league has not entertained the option of moving games to Thursday night.

The move isn't necessarily exclusive to schools that don't receive as much prime-time exposure on Saturdays, according to Rudner, although the three networks will have input on the schedule. Rudner said on Wednesday that the Big Ten Network's programming won't be affected by the new move.

"Obviously this is a little bit different. For traditionalists, it's going to be different," Rudner said. "I think this gets to more prime-time exposure for more programs."

The Big Ten's media rights deal is reportedly worth $2.64 billion and will earn the conference an estimated $440 million over the next six years.

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