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State rep introduces bill to stop Iowa from playing Friday night football games

The Big Ten’s lining up Friday games. A legislator’s trying to keep Iowa out of them forever.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s in vogue these days for state legislators to try to influence college sports rules by introducing bills specifically targeted at the NCAA and its conferences. Last week, a Mississippi state representative who happened to play football at Ole Miss introduced a bill that would create a Mississippi-imposed timeline on NCAA investigations.

This week, the Big Ten’s in the crosshairs of Iowa Republican state representative Peter Cownie, of West Des Moines. He introduced a bill Tuesday that’s titled: An Act prohibiting regents institutions from scheduling intercollegiate football games on Fridays.

The bill says exactly what you think it says. It’s just a few paragraphs, and the meat is this: It would “prohibit the institutions of higher education under [state] control from scheduling any intercollegiate football game on a Friday.”

In September and October, the Big Ten’s going to hold a total of six Friday night football games, all on ESPN or Fox. The Iowa Hawkeyes, the team of Iowa’s flagship state school, are not playing any of them. The (mostly lame) schedule is here. But the games are supposed to continue at least through 2022.

Friday night is high school football’s night. That’s how it’s been and how it will continue to be. High school coaches around the Midwest expressed lots of alarm when the Big Ten announced it’d play these games. If the entire state’s focusing on an Iowa game for even one Friday night, that could detract from attendance and revenue (and spirit and pride) at high schools around the state. The logic makes sense.

“Friday nights are a pretty sacred time for high school football, no matter what size of town you live in in this state,” Cownie told SB Nation. “Especially our small town communities, Friday night football games are sometimes the occasion that bring a whole town together. And I just kind of thought this went against the fabric of that, and felt strongly about it, and filed the bill.”

College teams are sensitive to this concern, because they have no choice. No team’s going to be good without recruiting its home state well, and alienating home-state high school coaches by taking their spotlight on Friday nights is not good business. Nor is upsetting fans who enjoy Saturday tailgates but don’t like Friday rush-hour traffic.

Jim Harbaugh suggested Michigan wouldn’t play on Fridays at all. Penn State told the Big Ten immediately that it wouldn’t host Friday games, while Wisconsin and Michigan State laid out specific limitations for when they would. Iowa, the school, could take similar action. It might be hard for the Big Ten to force the Hawkeyes to host a game.

“They could do that on their own,” Cownie said. “I’m an elected official. I’m one of 150 legislators down there [in Des Moines, the state capital] to represent the people and what I think they feel strongly about, and this is something that they do feel strongly about, and I don’t think they’re in favor of it.”

The Iowa bill might go farther. It says no regent-controlled Iowa team (i.e., Iowa and Iowa State at the FBS level) can “schedule” a Friday night game, period. That leaves room for Iowa to try to apply it to road games, too, though Cownie isn’t familiar with Big Ten scheduling protocol and said that detail hadn’t yet been worked out.

A potential hiccup: Iowa currently does play a Friday game every year: on Black Friday, against Big Ten West foe Nebraska. High school football’s about done by that time.

It seems silly when state legislators try to dictate terms to organizations with lots of power over their state’s biggest sports team. But if this bill passed — which isn’t anything close to a certainty — it might give the Hawkeyes the leverage they’d need to convince the Big Ten to let them skip Friday games altogether. And if not, all politics is local, and this is good politics.

“The way this would work, right now, Iowa would play at Kinnick Stadium on Friday night, and that puts a lot of Iowans in having to make a difficult choice that they’ve never had to make before,” Cownie said. “And they would not be able to be go to the game in their community … or not go to the Iowa game, which perhaps they’ve been going to all their lives.”