ANN ARBOR — Two days before Halloween, the Michigan athletic department will have to deal with one of its biggest fears: A home football game at night.
While many schools embrace primetime games, Michigan reluctantly deals with them.
“We have been consistent in our preference for day games,” a Michigan athletic department spokesperson said this week.
Schools can provide input, but kickoff times are decided by the Big Ten in conjunction with its television partners. Those decision makers assigned Michigan a 7:30 p.m. ET start against Michigan State this Saturday. ABC will broadcast the game.
Michigan also had a home night game against Hawaii earlier this season. Michigan’s other six games — four home, two away — have all started at noon ET. The other potential start time for Big Ten games is 3:30.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh prefers early starts. He made that clear before Michigan’s last primetime game against Michigan State in 2017.
“It most appeals to my football sensibility,” he said at the time.
That sensibility is shared by Michigan’s athletic director, Warde Manuel. In 2017, he laid out all the problems with a night game, from excessive alcohol consumption among fans to late-night commutes to additional lighting. For a night game, Michigan Stadium staff might work 17 hours straight, he said.
Manuel was not made available to comment in advance of Saturday’s game, but his office provided a statement that noted “nothing has changed about the Big Ten’s scheduling nor our stance on night games.”
The Big Ten and its affiliated networks — ABC, Big Ten Network, ESPN, and FOX, which carried four straight Michigan games this season — still have control over start times for all games except homecoming and late-season contests.
And so Saturday’s game against the Spartans will be Michigan’s 10th home night game since the start of the 2017 season.
Many players appreciate competing under the Big House lights.
“I like night games,” said senior offensive lineman Karsen Barnhart. “They’re big time. Especially at the Big House, because the atmosphere there is incredible.”
Said junior safety R.J. Moten: “I feel like when we play at night everything is faster, the crowd is louder. There’s just a different feeling on the field at night.”
A few other players shared those sentiments but noted their preference for noon starts. “You get up, get right to it,” fifth-year offensive lineman Ryan Hayes said. “You don’t have to sit there all day and think about the game.”
There is no consensus among Michigan fans regarding kickoff times.
“The feedback we directly receive on start times comes from all sides of the issue, with our large fan base having wide-ranging and passionate preferences,” the athletic department spokesperson said. “Clearly stated, we do not receive more significant input from fans about night vs. day games.”
Fans can’t agree on night games. Players enjoy the enhanced atmosphere. And the university wishes every game ended before the sun went down.
On Saturday, it will be dark by kickoff. Michigan will be facing its in-state rival. It is Halloween weekend.
For the Michigan athletic department, it’s a nightmare.