NCAA Change Fosters Prep Fears

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, Times-Union sports writer

GAINESVILLE -- Jon Fox has a nightmare.

The Paxon and Englewood high school football teams are getting ready for kickoff on a Friday night, and when the referee blows his whistle, all Fox hears is an endless echo. The sound repeats because there are no bodies in the stands.

They're all at home, watching a college football game on ESPN.

Fox, the Duval County athletic director, knows that extreme scenario isn't likely to happen. But he fears the Friday night the University of Florida, Florida State, Georgia or Miami -- schools that have large followings in the area -- decide to take advantage of the NCAA's rule change earlier this month that allows colleges to play televised football games after 7 p.m. on Fridays.

"It [the NCAA's ruling] is not going to be the end of us, but it's just one more area of competition we have to contend with on Friday nights," Fox said. "From the fair to concerts to other attractions, we're losing people. I don't think it's going to hurt us real bad until you have teams of local interest on Friday nights."

That apparently isn't likely to happen soon. The Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East Conference, which include Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia, have no immediate plans to play on Fridays. Neither do Bethune-Cookman, Central Florida, Florida A&M or Jacksonville University.

SEC athletic directors are so disappointed in the new rule that they plan to craft a proposal to eliminate it at their annual spring meetings this week in Destin.

Though Florida is not likely to be affected, other regions will. The Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and Mountain West Conference already had Friday games scheduled -- allowable under previous NCAA rules provided they finished by 7 p.m. -- and are negotiating to move the games to Friday night.

High school officials have been outraged by the rule change. Not only could they be hurt at the gate, but it also hurts recruiting efforts by colleges. With colleges not playing on Friday nights, college recruiters were able to see games in person and recruits could either watch college teams on television or travel to see the games in person on Saturdays.

The change also destroys what has become America's football tradition in many parts of the country: high school games on Friday, college games on Saturday, and professional games on Sunday. …