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Gary Barta calls Iowa's Friday night football game at Minnesota 'inconvenience'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Gary Barta isn’t enthused that his Iowa football team will be opening Big Ten Conference play next season on a Friday night in Minnesota.

But the Hawkeye athletic director had no say in that decision. And he understands it’s the reality of the league’s TV contract signed in 2017.

“This is unfortunately the first time that we’ve had to do it. And we’ll embrace it. It’s when we’ve been asked to play,” Barta said of playing a regular-season game on a Friday other than the day after Thanksgiving. “I hope fans can make it up to Minneapolis. I know it’s an inconvenience for those who have a hard time getting away from work.”

The rivalry game was originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19. But the Big Ten announced last week it was moving the game to Sept. 18. The conference has been scheduling occasional Friday games for the past three seasons as a way to get more TV exposure. Other major conferences do this as well.

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This season, there were three Big Ten games on Fridays – Penn State vs. Maryland on Sept. 27, Ohio State vs. Northwestern on Oct. 18 and the traditional Iowa-Nebraska matchup on Black Friday.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta knows Friday night Big Ten Conference football games are a new reality. That doesn't mean he's a fan of them. The Hawkeyes will face Minnesota next season on Friday, Sept. 18.

Barta has said Iowa will only host a Friday night game if it’s on Labor Day weekend. So far, it has not been ordered to do so.

“Once we get asked, I don’t get to decline it,” Barta said.

Hawkeye fans have taken to social media to voice their displeasure about the Friday game. It conflicts with high school football games. It also bucks a long tradition of college games being held on Saturdays.

Barta was speaking here as Iowa prepares to face USC in the Holiday Bowl on, coincidentally, Friday at 7 p.m.

He said he understands why some fans are upset about the Minnesota matchup.

“We’re going to play at home against Iowa State (on Sept. 12) and have a short week,” Barta noted. “But just about every program in the Big Ten has either already been inconvenienced by this or will be during the course of the (six-year) contract. I would prefer to play every game on Saturday at either 1 o’clock or 7 o’clock, depending on whether you like day games or night games. This was all part of the negotiations in the Big Ten.

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“I go way back to when you played every game at 1 o’clock, and basketball was always Thursday and Saturday. But we’ve also been fortunate now to have a national TV presence for every game, whether it’s football or men’s basketball, and they’ve provided us a great resource. So it’s a balancing act.”

Barta said the Friday games are the only concession he can see the Big Ten making to TV networks. He said league schools made it clear there was no interest in mid-week contests.

Barta made the Labor Day stipulation so that the Iowa High School Athletic Association would have plenty of warning and could move its football games to Thursday that week. He anticipates that day will eventually come.

“I’m pretty sure at some point we’ll be asked to do that,” Barta said.

“For our fans, my thought is on a Labor Day weekend, people can take maybe vacation and treat it more like a long weekend. … We’re not going to move toward Fridays on a regular basis. I anticipate at some point, we’ll have to do it at Kinnick Stadium."

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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