Asmussen | Bielema, Illini looking forward to Friday night under the lights

Sep. 7—CHAMPAIGN — During the 13-week Big Ten schedule, Illinois plays twice on Friday night, including the upcoming trip to Kansas.

That's out of eight Friday matchups for conference teams overall.

What is Bret Bielema's take?

"I used to get a lot more wrapped up in 11 o'clock, 2 o'clock, night game, Friday, Thursday, Saturday," Bielema said during a Wednesday morning press conference at the Smith Center. "What I've learned is our kids, because of the morning practices, they learn to adjust and practice to anything."

The bigger issue when Friday college football games were first introduced was the conflict with the high school schedules.

Across the country, Friday has been traditionally reserved for the preps. Billy Bob Thornton didn't star in "Tuesday Night Lights."

"I'm a purist. A little bit of a traditionalist," Bielema said. "That's part of it."

One of the earliest Friday night Big Ten games involved Minnesota and Michigan in 2003. At the time, the Gophers shared the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome with the Twins and because of a conflict with the American League playoffs, they played Minnesota-Michigan on Friday instead. Of course, the Twins were eliminated by the Yankees before they actually had to host a game, but the football deal had already been done.

"When I became a head coach, there was talks of Friday night games, but I think they gave you the option back then," Bielema said.

Now, teams play when they are told. Remember, they have a big media rights check coming at the end of the year and the TV folks crave flexibility.

Rutgers and Northwestern just opened on Sunday. The Big Ten had games the opening week on Thursday and Friday, too.

"You're seeing things now that you've never seen before, and I think it's driven by the dollar of the TV contract," the Illinois coach said, "but our guys really flow with it pretty easy."

At this point, according to Bielema, there is little in the way of push-back from high school coaches. They understand their guys aspire to play at the college level and it is part of doing business.

"They've been desensitized to it over the last 10 years," Bielema said.

Quick turnarounds

It will be a long Friday for Bielema's team. After the game against the Jayhawks, the Illini will board a plane to return home. Arrival will be early Saturday morning.

Because the team didn't have a break this week, the players have no football-related activities on Saturday.

The Illinois coaches will be in the office Saturday, grading the Kansas tape and looking ahead to the Sept. 16 home matchup against Penn State, which also serves as the Illini's Big Ten opener.

"We've already done a lot of prep on Penn State, but obviously, they'll play their second game (against Delaware) that Saturday, so we'll have two games on them to go through and adjust what we had already learned through the spring and summer in our early fall scouting report," Bielema said.

Illinois isn't the only school with two Friday appearances. Michigan State and Nebraska also have two Friday dates this season, with the Cornhuskers visiting Illinois on Oct. 6.

Home or away on a Friday isn't a big deal to Illinois.

"I think our guys enjoy road environments," Bielema said. "The fact that we're underdogs and all the things that go into this game — you've got new uniforms, venue they've never played in before — they'll be great energy in there. I think you just play to the game for what it is."

On the way

Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa each have one game on Friday.

Two of the games are the day after Thanksgiving, with Iowa traveling to Nebraska and Michigan State playing Penn State at Detroit's Ford Field.

Who doesn't play on Friday? Conference overlords Michigan and Ohio State. Because, you know, they are better than everyone else.

At least that's what I hear.

All of the Big Ten schools — even the super powers — need to plan for the new reality. Those giant checks come with strings attached. It won't surprise me at all if the 18-team Big Ten starts scheduling football games on Mondays and Wednesdays, too.

Why not?

There will be nine games each weekend during the conference schedule. Play one game each on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday and spread the other five out on Saturday. Every game has a friendly TV window.