The Big Ten so embraces its football tradition that it once seemed like the upgrade from leather to plastic helmets was enough change for a century.
Night games? Get out of here.
As recently as 2004, Ohio State and Michigan football endured as an afternoon pastime. Ohio Stadium did not have permanent lights while Michigan Stadium would not host its first prime-time game for another seven years. The rivals combined to play one night game that season — an ill-fated trip by the Buckeyes to Northwestern.
A decade later, no one is calling the Big Ten old school anymore.
Turn on the lights, the party’s starting. The Big Ten Network announced Tuesday its prime-time schedule this fall will include another round of night games for OSU and Michigan.
The Buckeyes will host Cincinnati at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27 while Michigan is slated to kick off at the same time Oct. 4 at Rutgers.
If you’re scoring at home, the league schedule includes a school-record four regular-season night games for OSU, the first Big Ten game under the lights in Michigan Stadium history, and a prime-time foray into unmarked territory. Michigan State’s visit to Maryland on Nov. 15 will kick off at 8 p.m.
Ohio State officials once cited cost, safety concerns, and fan convenience in making night home games a novelty. The Horseshoe has hosted only 14 of them in its 93-year history, including a record two last season. Yet the appeal of prime-time contests for television and recruiting exposure is becoming too much to dismiss.
Ohio Stadium will feature permanent lights for the first time this season, and they will be put to good use.
ABC/ESPN previously announced its prime-time schedule will include two OSU home games under the lights — Sept. 6 against Virginia Tech and Nov. 1 against Illinois — and one on the road Oct. 25 against Penn State. All three games will kick off at 8 p.m., with ESPN televising Ohio State’s home opener against the Hokies and ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2 carrying the later games.
The headliner game of the Big Ten season — OSU at Michigan State on Nov. 8 — could also move to prime time, though ABC/ESPN executives may be hesitant to share the late spotlight with Alabama-LSU the same night.
Michigan, meanwhile, also has permanent lighting for a stadium that did not host its first night game until 2011. The Wolverines will play three night games in all, including Oct. 11 at home against Penn State. The 7 p.m. game will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2 and mark the first prime-time Big Ten matchup in Michigan Stadium history.
UM’s final rivalry game — for now — against Notre Dame is set for a 7:30 p.m. NBC broadcast on Sept. 6 in South Bend.