COLUMBUS — Ohio State is the Big Ten’s golden goose.
It has been for a while. It will be for as long as college football fans recognize and love the sport.
And that’s why the league — and Fox, it’s primary TV partner — continue to run the Buckeyes out there for Big Noon Kickoff games as often as they can. The television numbers reinforce the decision.
When Oregon visited Columbus on Sept. 11, the game drew nearly eight million viewers. That game was the No. 6 most-watched regular season game in the network’s history.
All six of Fox’s highest-watched contests have featured Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the draw.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s at noon, or 4:00 p.m. or a primetime game under the lights. Ohio State fans would flood TV networks if the game started at midnight.
The time of the game does matter, at least anecdotally, to Ohio State and its recruiting efforts.
The Oregon game was a monster for Fox, sure. But the kick-off time hurt the Buckeyes from capitalizing on the recruiting front. A large group of California stars across the 2022, 2023 and 2024 recruiting classes were expected to visit Columbus that weekend. A high school game running long shouldn’t prevent top recruits from getting to campus for a Saturday game.
But it did.
Earnest Greene, Matayo Uiagalelei, Peyton Woodyard and a handful of others had to cancel their trip. Those are national recruits with offers from every major program in the country, forced to miss a marquee game at Ohio State.
Greene had initially been aiming for a rescheduled official visit this weekend against Maryland. Again, a noon game stopped that from happening.
Ryan Day isn’t going to demand the league consider the Buckeyes recruiting efforts in its scheduling. He believes the Ohio State game-day experience is elite no matter when the whistle blows.
“It is harder for the West Coast guys to get here for the noon games,” Day said Thursday. “That’s a part of the equation, obviously we love to get guys here for games. The more guys we can get on campus for game-day atmosphere — we think it’s the best game-day atmosphere in the country — and we want to get guys here … hopefully there are going to be more opportunities [for later games] as we head into the middle of October and November.
“But the noon kickoff is always exciting … it’s obviously the prime-time for Fox.”
It’s not just West Coast recruits that struggle to make those early games. Unofficial visitors from Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and other key locations aren’t helped either. Most players don’t wrap up their high school games until nearly 10:00 p.m. on Friday nights. That means driving through the night to get to Ohio Stadium early enough to talk to coaches before the Buckeyes kickoff.
Great impressions aren’t made that way.
Again, it’s not the time slot that makes something primetime for Fox and the Big Ten. Ohio State is what makes a game a must-watch. The primary TV partner needs to recognize that. Day and the Buckeyes have to be hoping for ESPN/ABC to televise its huge upcoming game against Penn State. That’s the safest way to make sure recruits from all over the country can attend.
As the college football landscapes — and national population shifts — change, the league does itself no favors by alienating recruits from outside of the Big Ten footprint. The Midwest isn’t producing elite college football talent the way that the West Coast, Texas and the Southeast do. Top-tier recruits sign with the schools they see the most, the schools they visit the most.
If the Big Ten wants to continue competing against the SEC juggernaut being built by Greg Sankey it must adjust. It has to consider the challenges it is putting on its members. The league shouldn’t chase TV ratings ahead of program building especially because the program it relies on the most will draw huge audiences no matter when it plays.
By scheduling the league’s biggest games with its best teams at times that prevent elite players from visiting, the Big Ten is hurting itself.