As it stands now, nine Big Ten teams are set to play night games at home this season. If it were up to the coaches within the conference, that number would be way up.
Though a night game has many benefits outside of recruiting, it’s impact on recruiting cannot be overstated. Hosting a game at night can provide an exciting atmosphere, easier travel time for recruits and more time for coaches in front of the visiting prospects.
"A night game in the Horseshoe, those are big hits and that's the one thing a night game does, it gives you the opportunity to get guys here. Not just the state of Ohio, the surrounding areas as well, because they can travel," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "Otherwise you couldn’t ring them in if it was an earlier game. Someone shows up in the middle of the first quarter, or they have to get up at five am to get here, then that’s not really setting up for a nice visit.
"These kids can come watch people tailgate, be a part of the pageantry of a really incredible setting and then go watch a game."
The Buckeyes will host three night games this season and will be a part of five total. The first is Saturday night when Virginia Tech comes to town.
Naturally, it has turned out to be one of the biggest recruiting weekends anywhere in the country with No. 1 ranked prospect Josh Sweat and ESPN 300 recruits Kevin Toliver II, Damien Harris and Matt Burrell Jr. scheduled to be on hand.
All of those prospects are from outside the Midwest, and the night game is a key reason they are able to make it up to campus.
John Harris, an assistant coach at C.D. Hylton in Virginia, where Burrell is an offensive lineman, has taken quite a few trips with Burrell and other prospects. Harris says night games are without a doubt a huge advantage for schools when it comes to luring top targets to campus.
"It makes it a lot easier because with us in Virginia, we play our games Friday night at 7:30 at night and the game isn’t over until 10 p.m. A lot of times if it’s an afternoon game, you're asking a kid who probably plays on both sides of the ball to go shower then get in the car and drive for a few hours," Harris said. "That’s stressful on the kid, and you don’t have the chance to enjoy it that much. The kids are tired, and instead of hanging out and enjoying the campus, they want to get to the hotel room and take a nap."
Harris has learned that to attend day games outside of Virginia, it’s almost a necessity to fly. It will be almost a seven hour drive for Burrell when he travels to Columbus, so had he been forced to leave Friday night it would’ve made for a close call.
Not every Big Ten team has a night game this season, though, so that adds another challenge for those teams. Wisconsin is hoping to get one scheduled in the future, and head coach Gary Andersen recognizes the need.
The Badgers are branching out their recruiting efforts geographically and have offered 122 prospects in the 2015 class from California, Florida and Texas. It's a 5 1/2 hour flight from Los Angeles to Madison, so it’s not only expensive, but also time consuming for prospects to make it to campus.
"You’re coming from the West Coast, you play Friday night, you get on a plane, it’s hard to do. We don’t have a night game and we’d like to get where we can have a night game so we have the opportunity to get those kids in the spot to get here in time to experience the football game," Andersen said. "Right now that’s difficult when you don’t have a night game. Many teams in the Big Ten have those games, so looking forward to the future we need to get on that list and we need to get a night game."
Without night games, location could handicap some Big Ten teams in their pursuit of prospects outside the Midwest. Knowing coaches don’t like to be at a disadvantage to their rivals, expect the trend of hosting big games under the lights to become more prevalent within the conference.