Friday Night Lights … here, and there

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

There once was an unwritten agreement (the least binding kind of agreement, by the way) between state universities and their money-monster football programs, and their respective state high school athletic associations — Friday Night Lights was off limits to colleges and was strictly reserved for the high school kids to have their nights under the neon all to themselves.

College football was the pomp and circumstance of fall Saturday afternoons. Crisp autumn Friday nights were all for high schools.

It helped everybody. It helped everybody’s gate, it helped recruiting, as coaches could recruit on Fridays (yes, a far simpler time … or so we were led to believe) and recruits could visit on Saturdays, and it cemented two time-honored and cherished traditions.

Yes, there was a land of Covering Each Other’s Back called the mid-to-late 20th Century. Here in this pretty world, cooperation and taking care of each other took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of your word as your bond and helping out the little guy, and letting everybody have their moment in the sun (or moon). Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a civilization gone with the wind …

Okay, and with apologies to Margaret Mitchell, perhaps a tad dramatic. That dream remembered went out the window with night baseball.

Television squashed those two time-honored traditions of Friday Night Lights and Saturday afternoon college football. Television, after all, has more far more money than high school, and even college football, gates produce.

Everything has become a TV show. And by that, we mean everything. Yet, this is life as we now know it and, in the immortal words of the brilliant #NFLTheTVShow philosopher, Brain Billick, “It is what it is.”

Thus, the undefeated University of Maryland Terrapins – that’s right, undefeated University of Maryland Terrapins, two spots and 47 voters’ points shy of being ranked in the AP Top 25, will host undefeated and No. 5-ranked Iowa Friday night, 8 o’clock, at Maryland Stadium in College Park.

It will mark the second time in three weeks the Terps will be on national television on a Friday night, which would be rarified air for Maryland if not for its Big Ten Conference television agreements, which not only comes with shared revenue from its conference’s own television network (Big Ten Network, BTN), but with the conference’s agreement with Fox Sports and FoxSports1 (FS1), which will televise Friday’s game.

It’s pretty exciting, frankly. I myself, while perfectly aware that all of the area state high schools are playing this weekend in our immediate area, will be going to College Park to see the Terps. While I loved 95 percent of my 40-year career covering high school sports, I’ve been to more than plenty Friday night high school games. For during that 95-percent of loving what I was blessed to have been doing for a living for four decades, I also hated 100 percent of not being able to see Maryland play in College Park whenever I had the opportunity to.

But, once more, Brain Billick knew … It is what it is. No complaints.

It will be an exciting evening for the university because the stadium is going to be packed (at least early) and there will be a long-vacant electricity present for a legitimate big-time football game on campus, on national television, for the first time in far too many years.

Now, does Maryland have a chance? The oddsmakers say they might, having opened the betting line on Sunday with the Terps being a 4 to 4.5-point underdog.

So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.

Certainly, Iowa should be the favorite on Friday night, but it’s exciting for Maryland being able to host a game such as this one after all of these years and to at least be getting a fighter’s chance – or in this case, an athlete’s chance.

Terps head coach Michael Locksley is delivering on his promises of three years ago when he said he would bring in skilled and talented football players from the get-go. They have come and more are coming, which is good, because the Big Ten East Division, of which the Terps are a member, along with Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers, is unforgiving.

Maryland is going to need as much as Locksley can bring, and it’s what he’s already delivered that has been the difference in Maryland wins over West Virginia, Howard, Illinois and Kent State, and its 4-0 start.

Now, will that be enough against the line play and depth of established Iowa? Maybe it will be, but likely it won’t be.

Either way, it will be a great opportunity for Maryland, so I’m going to be in College Park to find out.

Friday Night Lights will understand. We have, after all, been through so much together.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT