Tepper: Allowing Friday night Texas high school football broadcasts is a win for the sport

Photo by Russell Wilburn

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UPDATE (August 13): The UIL officially lifted the ban, announcing guidelines for telecasts.

The world is tired of the word “unprecedented.” But the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on all facets of life is certainly, um, a brave new world. And Texas high school football is no exception.

In a UIL Legislative Council meeting in June, UIL executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt announced the UIL’s ban on live video broadcasts for regular season broadcasts of Friday night football games would be lifted for the 2020 season. On Thursday, the UIL made it official, releasing guidelines for the telecasts.

The so-called “Friday night rule” has been in effect since time immemorial, ostensibly as a way to incentivize fans attending the game (and subsequently buying a ticket and concessions) as opposed to staying at home. But with restrictions on attendance seemingly inevitable for Texas high school football games in the fall, the UIL decided to allow the broadcast of Friday night games for the upcoming season.

“Friday nights in Texas are a community event and fundraising for multiple organizations takes place at a football game on Friday,” Breithaupt said. “We believe that should be protected. By lifting the ban now, we will allow time for the schools to negotiate broadcast rights or allow in-house student broadcast teams time to prepare putting together a quality broadcast.”

There are many details to work out with this new allowance. Both schools must agree to the broadcast in advance and all broadcasts must still follow UIL guidelines for radio broadcasts that are posted on the UIL website.

And it’s worth mentioning that this is only for the regular season — the UIL does not own rights to regular season games and won’t be involved in any enforcement activities regarding Friday night broadcasts; that will be the responsibility of the two competing schools. The UIL owns the rights to all playoff games.

The move, in many respects, is a no-brainer — school districts now have a tool to help make them whole in the fall, which may make them less gun-shy to impose attendance restrictions and promote social distancing.

The key will be in the details: how many schools will broadcast the games themselves? For those who use third parties, how much will they charge for the broadcasting rights? Remember that the schools own the broadcasting rights; that gives them tremendous leverage in any negotiations.

But for Texas high school football as a whole — for those who want to see the sport succeed — this is an important and positive moment. The more available Texas high school football is to the masses, the more popular it becomes, the stronger the sport will be in the long-term.

The pandemic has changed the world and will continue to do so, but with Friday night lights now available for broadcast, the interest in Texas high school football may reach heights that are — yes — unprecedented.

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