College football is not just for Saturdays anymore - that's obvious in Ohio this week as in-state schools host games on five consecutive days. The Dispatch's Todd Jones reports from each site on factors affecting traditions of the game.

College football is not just for Saturdays anymore - that's obvious in Ohio this week as in-state schools host games on five consecutive days. The Dispatch's Todd Jones reports from each site on factors affecting traditions of the game.

TOLEDO - If you're going to attend five college football games in five days, you might as well start the trip by talking to some cheerleaders.

They were gathered on the University of Toledo campus yesterday about 21/2 hours before the Rockets played Northern Illinois in a crucial Mid-American Conference game. "Yes!" the trio answered in unison when asked if they'd rather have the game played on a Saturday, as used to be the norm in college football.

They all have class this morning, duh.

"On a Saturday, you get more tailgating and campus is more lively," said Shelley Popiel, a Toledo freshman from Livonia, Mich. "The parking lots are normally full. This just feels like the middle of the week."

Actually, college football on a Tuesday night feels like Wednesday night or Thursday night or Friday night, at least this week in Ohio, where the sport's major issues at a revolutionary time are crystallized.

Toledo's 63-60 home loss to Northern Illinois last night was the first of five games hosted by Football Bowl Subdivision schools in our state on five consecutive days, including Ohio State's matchup Saturday with Indiana.

All five games - including Temple at Ohio tonight, Akron at Miami tomorrow, and Central Michigan at Kent State on Friday - were scheduled to be televised, at least in-between updates on the Kardashian divorce.

Television is why neither Toledo nor Northern Illinois play another Saturday game the rest of this year.

And TV is why a college football game will be played on every day of the week at least once this regular season, although no bowl games will be held New Year's Day.

"The only constant is change," said Northern Illinois athletic director Jeff Compher. "People who want to get caught up honoring tradition are going to be left on the side."

This week's four consecutive prime-time games on ESPN channels involving five Ohio MAC schools come at a time of instability for the sport. A dizzying pace of conference realignment spins daily.

"Certainly, TV revenue is driving it," MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.

Thirty years ago, schools made less than $1 million each in TV money. Some, such as Ohio State and its Big Ten foes, now are paid $20 million or more.

Money trickled when ESPN began broadcasting Thursday night college football games in 1991. Ten years later, the NCAA deregulated its bylaws for football TV contracts, which included a ban on Friday night games. Gluttony followed.

The MAC plays more midweek games - 13 this month - than any other league, but even the big boys are breaking old habits. Wisconsin opened this season on a Thursday. Last season, Alabama played its first weekday home game in 59 years.

The Mountain West turned down an ESPN television contract last year because the network wanted the league to schedule games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but the money is too necessary for financially strapped athletic programs in the MAC to ignore.

One of Steinbrecher's first acts after becoming MAC commissioner two years ago was to negotiate an eight-year contract extension with ESPN. The deal pays league members $1 million annually through the 2016-17 academic year, and offers the publicity craved by all.

"We're not going to get on national TV on a Saturday," Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien said. "We're the only show on tonight. As an institution, that's a three-hour marketing spot for us that we can't buy."

National exposure might explain why Toledo has players from more states (17) than Ohio State (13) does, but midweek games present challenges, too, especially in the classroom at a time when the NCAA is strengthening academic reform.

Compher said Northern Illinois, with a $7 million football budget, uncharacteristically chartered a team flight instead of taking a bus to return to DeKalb, Ill., immediately after last night's game so players could attend classes today.

A MAC rule requires players to attend all classes before noon on days when they have a home game. Toledo didn't cancel classes last night, as some schools do, and it showed in the stands at the ancient Glass Bowl.

The attendance of 19,004 at a game nationally televised on ESPN2 and ESPN 3D was 5,454 smaller than the Rockets averaged in their first four home games.

Alex Rivers made it to the game, although it caused him a little trouble in an afternoon class because Toledo's marching band met on campus at 3:30 p.m.

"I had to leave class a little early," said Rivers, a freshman cymbal player from Maple Heights, Ohio. "It's OK. It was just math."

Rivers and the rest of the band joined forces with the cheerleaders in midafternoon. Together, they led the football players on a traditional pre-game walk across campus to the Glass Bowl.

With music blaring and pom-poms shaking, the contingent arrived at a parking lot at the north side of the stadium.

About 20 fans were there to greet them.

"Normally, this place is completely packed," said Keith Dantin, father of Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin. "I think people are showing up late because it's a workday."

Dantin and his wife, Debbie, traveled from their home in Tallahassee, Fla., to tailgate with other parents of players on a cloudless, blue-sky Tuesday afternoon.

The mother of Toledo offensive tackle A.J. Lindeman had to leave work early in her hometown of Chicago and drive nearly 31/2 hours to see her son play.

"I just got here and changed my clothes in a Porta Potti," Amy Lindeman said. "I can't party in my work clothes."

What does she think of Tuesday night college football?

"It's crap," she said. "My daughter couldn't come because she's in school."

Of course, they could have watched the game on TV.

tjones@dispatch.com