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Due to ratings and revenue, college football games are invading Friday nights, a day traditionally reserved for high schools

Friday night lights were intended for high school football, uniting a community around the gridiron.

But in recent years, as more television cameras have turned to college football on Friday nights, the spotlight has become shared.

“As an old high school coach, I think Friday nights are high school football nights,” University of Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “To me, that’s kind of sacred ground. I hate crossing that barrier. I would rather college games be on Saturday and high school games be on Friday.”

This particular Friday night not only signals the official start of the Oklahoma high school football season, but it also is the season opener for TU, which visits No. 18 Michigan State at 6 p.m., and for Oklahoma State, playing at Oregon State at 9:30. Both games will air on FS1.

The American Football Coaches Association, which has a membership of more than 11,000 coaches on all levels of competition, has campaigned this year for the elimination of college games being scheduled on Fridays.

“Friday nights should be a sanctuary for our high school football programs and they should be free of college distractions,” the AFCA said in a statement. “It’s not just high school football that is hurt, but it’s the band, the concessions and everyone associated with that high school program who benefits from the finances of those high school games.

“It seems very strange to invade the territory of the hand that is feeding college football because that is where college programs get their student-athletes from.”

TV networks determine the game’s day and time, and Friday nights represent another opportunity to produce ratings that will lead to more advertising revenue. Last season, an average of 1.2 million people watched the 10 Friday games broadcast on ESPN, not including ones on the day after Thanksgiving, an ESPN spokesman said.

“I don’t think we can dictate (when games are played),” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “You can say, ‘I want to play every Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon’ or ‘I want to play a 6 o’clock game in September.’ But you’re wasting your time. TV pays the bills. We do what they say.”

Although the viewership for FS1, a channel not typically included on basic cable, is close to half of ESPN’s, there is a significantly higher-profile platform that comes with playing on a Friday night. Only four other FBS games will be televised during TU’s game and three during OSU’s game, and Friday night games have developed a reputation for being entertaining and unpredictable.

“Even if it’s not a marquee game — and almost every game is on TV now — it’s still a primetime slot and I think coaches and players still feel that,” said ESPN play-by-play commentator Adam Amin, who has done several seasons of Friday night assignments. “You’re often the only game in town, (so) fans’ attention is locked in on that one game. I think that energy, along with the shorter week, can often lead to some weird things happening.”

Playing on a non-Saturday has traditionally been a more common occurrence for teams outside the Power Five. TU has had 10 Friday games in the past 15 years compared to four for OSU, and the Hurricane has played six American Athletic Conference games on Fridays since joining the league in 2014.

“High school football is local and our games are national,” American commissioner Mike Aresco told the Orlando Sentinel in January. “We don’t ask teams to (play on Friday) more than once or twice and certainly not at home more than once. It’s a handful of games. I don’t think it has a huge impact on Friday high school football.

“I think it’s very important to our conference to play those Friday games. It’s really critical to the survival of our conference as a major TV entity. We have a great product on Saturdays, too. We have great Thursday games. Fridays are important and they’re more valuable than Thursdays because you don’t have the NFL sitting there.”

While a Friday road game requires travel on Thursday and disrupts players’ class schedules more, coaches would prefer that situation rather than playing at home on a Friday.

“We get only six home games a year,” said Montgomery, whose team hosts UCF on Friday, Nov. 8. “At those six home games, we have the ability to bring recruits in and they can watch a game, come down on the field prior to the game and we get to visit with them and their parents before and maybe after.

“When you play on Friday, it’s not an option. Now you’ve taken that down to five. You’re losing the opportunity to have recruits at your game and the chance to visit with them and showcase what your team’s about and what your atmosphere’s about and what your program’s about.”

Oklahoma high school football remains a major draw, with typical crowds of more than 10,000 for the annual Backyard Bowl between Jenks and Union, but not all high school games are on Friday nights. For Week 0 games out of state, Jenks played Thursday night while Broken Arrow, Sand Springs and Booker T. Washington are among those playing Saturday night.

“I think we’re way past the purity of having a night that’s yours,” said Owasso coach Bill Blankenship, who was head coach at TU in 2011-14. “In a perfect world, I would love to stay off of Fridays for college, and I would love to stay off of Saturdays for high schools.”

Petition effort to nullify gun law continues up to Thursday deadline but appears to come up short

OKLAHOMA CITY — Supporters of a petition drive to nullify permitless carry raced to meet their Thursday deadline but appeared likely to have fallen short of securing enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot.

At a 2 p.m. news conference, Rep. Jason Lowe, one of the leaders of the effort, announced that about 10,000 signatures were still needed and encouraged those who had not turned in signatures to do so.

“We are really close,” Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, said as the 5 p.m. deadline approached to turn the signed petitions into the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office.

Shortly after 5 p.m., Lowe said petitions had come in from Tulsa and other areas just before the deadline. An exact signature count was not immediately available; however, Lowe felt the group was close enough that the secretary of state needed to conduct an official count.

Supporters seeking to nullify House Bill 2597 need 59,320 petition signatures to get the issue on a statewide ballot in 2020.

The measure, called both permitless carry and constitutional carry, allows individuals to carry a weapon without a permit or training.

Passed during the last legislative session, HB 2597 was the first bill signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt and takes effect Nov. 1.

“This is a dangerous law,” Lowe said. “This is a law that does not need to be enacted on Nov. 1.”

He said supporters accomplished a lot during the two weeks the petition was circulating.

“Just imagine if we had 90 days. We would have over 200,000 signatures at this rate,” he said.

Moms Demand Action, a group that says it supports common sense gun laws, and others gathered signatures across the state.

Lowe said the effort was done by volunteers.

“This whole event has been done with zero dollars,” Lowe said. “Zero dollars.”

Jennifer Birch of Oklahoma City is a chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“Permitless carry is a dangerous policy that will endanger Oklahomans,” she said. “We know that gun violence will increase because of it.”

The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association and others filed a challenge to the proposed referendum with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday.

Lowe said that if enough signatures are not gathered, other options are on the table, such as an initiative petition that would require a higher signature threshold to bring about a statewide vote.

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Tribes to Gov. Stitt: Acknowledge automatic renewal of gaming compacts before trying to renegotiate

OKLAHOMA CITY — Several tribes have told Gov. Kevin Stitt that he must first recognize that gaming compacts renew automatically before negotiations to change them can begin, according to documents released Thursday.

Tribal representatives also said they are still waiting on a proposal from Stitt on rates paid to the state for gaming exclusivity.

Stitt, in an Aug. 13 letter to tribes, suggested tabling the disagreement over compact renewal in an effort to kickstart negotiations. He suggested a Sept. 3 meeting or a later mutually agreeable date.

The state’s tribes with gaming ventures believe that the gaming compacts with the state, in place for 15 years, automatically renew. Stitt thinks they expire Jan. 1.

The state receives 4% to 10% of proceeds from tribal gaming in exchange for granting the right to have casinos exclusively to the tribes. Stitt says the rates are low. In 2017, the state received nearly $134 million in tribal gaming exclusivity fees.

Tribal representatives gathered last week at the Grand Casino of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Shawnee and crafted a resolution in response to Stitt’s Aug. 13 letter.

About three dozen tribes expressed support for the resolution that says they can’t table the renewal issue, adding that it would be inappropriate to move forward with discussing new proposals until the renewal issue is resolved.

A necessary step would be for the state to acknowledge the automatic renewal, the resolution says.

It also says Stitt has not made any substantial proposal concerning fees and exclusivity.

The tribes would consider a proposal should the state acknowledge the automatic renewal, the resolution says.

“We recognize that Gov. Stitt has the right under the present gaming compact to request a renegotiation of rates paid under the gaming compact; however, a month has passed, and our request for a proposal from Gov. Stitt has gone unanswered,” Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew L. Morgan said.

Stitt Communications Director Baylee Lakey said the Attorney General’s Office would coordinate any meetings between the tribes and the governor.

“As for the letter, the governor believes strongly that if everyone can come to the table together to begin negotiations, we can achieve a win-win for both the tribes and all 4 million Oklahomans,” Lakey said.

In his Aug. 13 letter to tribes, Stitt said Attorney General Mike Hunter and a designee from each legislative chamber would be involved in negotiations.

In a statement Thursday, a spokesman for Hunter said the Attorney General’s Office was working to secure a date and place “to begin the conversation on tribal compacts.”

“The attorney general and the governor look forward to a mutually constructive and beneficial dialogue with tribal leadership,” Communications Director Alex Gerszewski said.

“As with all negotiations, Attorney General Hunter believes they are most successful when we proceed in a manner that respects their dynamic and delicate nature. Therefore, there will be no further comment on the negotiations from the Attorney General’s Office or the Governor’s Office until further notice.”


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Epic Charter Schools promoting itself with multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, plus $9,000 per month shopping mall playground sponsorships

Turn on the television or radio, get online or even go to a shopping mall and you’re likely to see ads and promotions for the state’s largest virtual school, Epic Charter Schools.

How much is this back-to-school advertising blitz costing? Nearly $2.5 million.

And sponsoring children’s play areas inside Tulsa’s Woodland Hills Mall and Oklahoma City’s Penn Square Mall through multiyear leases with the malls’ owner adds up to $105,000 in costs per year.

Advertising and marketing efforts to children, parents and potential new hires has persisted even amid new public revelations about the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s probe into allegations of embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretenses, racketeering and forgery at Epic.

A full spending breakdown on Epic’s advertising and marketing by outlet was requested, but school officials said one wasn’t immediately available.

Epic is using its public funds from two fiscal years and a third-party “media buyer” to spend $2.4 million over 12 weeks to promote the state’s largest virtual school on TV, radio and social media, a school spokeswoman said.

That includes $1.58 million designated solely for television ads and an Epic-sponsored football ticket promotion with the University of Oklahoma that circulated on social media called “Here’s to Teachers.”

In addition to the $2.4 million media buy, $72,600 is budgeted for sponsored content in print outlets, including “sponsored features” on the Tulsa World’s website and “BrandInsight” pieces in The Oklahoman, according to Epic. Sponsored content, which is also commonly referred to as advertorial content, is written and paid for by the advertiser in a format that matches the form and function of the publication.

“Our growth happened quickly and without any advertising, so our television commercials were created to counter misinformation and highlight our values. We believe students and families should have access to whatever learning environment works best for them, so our ads highlight nontraditional students and the ways we serve them,” said Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent at Epic.

In June, Woodland Hills Mall debuted a new 2,500-square-foot, high-tech play area with nature-themed climbing features, interactive digital games and Epic’s name emblazoned on banners and columns all around.

According to school officials, Epic did not pay for the costs of construction but instead struck a five-year deal with Simon Malls to pay a $5,000 per month lease.

The lease amount Epic pays for an Epic-branded indoor play area at Oklahoma City’s Penn Square is $3,750 per month.

An Epic spokeswoman said the school anticipates that the play areas will feature educational programming such as story time, science demonstrations, and art and math programs hosted by Epic faculty members along with museums and other nonprofits.

“Our playgrounds are available for student use and academic programming through community partners. Because they are indoors, those playgrounds are also available year-round for public use, and if you visit them any day of the week, you’ll find children and families enjoying the space,” Hickman said.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has explained that the state’s cost accounting system for all public schools includes a category through which schools can report advertising budgets, but she’s been critical of Epic’s level of spending.

She even raised the possibility of new legislation to make it unlawful.

“I don’t like seeing dollars used in advertising to recruit new students and grow exponentially when school performance isn’t as successful for all kids that are in that school. But is that unlawful? Does that need to change? Perhaps,” Hofmeister told reporters after a state board of education meeting on July 25. “I find it a clash with the for-profit model and the public service model, in this instance.”

A recent analysis of 2019 state test results found that Epic Charter Schools trailed statewide averages on all 14 state tests for students in grades three to eight and posted proficiency rates on four of those tests on par with or even lower than the perennially low Tulsa and Oklahoma City inner-city districts.

Epic has reported staggering student enrollment growth since it expanded in 2017-18 with two new “blended learning” centers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, that blend online and in-person instruction.

Epic Charter Schools was allocated $112.9 million in state aid funding alone for fiscal year 2019. OSBI has been investigating whether Epic wrongly obtained millions of taxpayer dollars by falsely inflating its student enrollment figures.

And as the Tulsa World previously reported, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Education’s law enforcement arm have also been probing Epic Charter Schools’ student enrollment practices and finances for the past several years.

Last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt requested an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools and its related entities by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.