Earlier this month we wrote about the possibility of Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington kicking off the 2014 season in a special "FCS Kickoff" game on August 23.
Now that possibility has turned into reality, as USA Today reported Thursday that ESPN is set to announce the tussle between the Bearkats and Eagles for a 3:30 p.m. ET broadcast on Saturday, August 23.
"We saw the opportunity, saw the need and desire from a programming perspective, and we feel like we can get a significant audience for this game," Brent Colborne, ESPN's Director of Programming for NCAA championships, told USA Today. "Come August 23, right before Labor Day, people are starving for college football. People are ready for football. This is a really cool opportunity to serve those fans."
The Saturday-before-the-Saturday broadcast window, when the pigskin-loving populace is dying for something meaningful to watch, used to be a prime exposure opportunity for FBS programs in various kickoff games, but the NCAA voted to outlaw those games a decade ago, which means Sam Houston State at Eastern Washington will be the earliest a college football game has been played since 2003.
Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett and Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton each petitioned the NCAA for a waiver, and it was granted. Each team will open camp early and, most importantly, receive an extremely rare exclusive broadcast window. Presently, even the FCS Championship - played on the first Saturday of January - shares a window with the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Fullerton told USA Today that those in the Football Championship Subdivision have discussed the possibility of opening the entire season a week earlier than FBS.
"If this goes well, I would like to put in legislation to offer that up," Fullerton said. "We have a firm start (Labor Day), but we also have a hard ending at Thanksgiving weekend. That's 12 weeks and a bye, with no time off for our kids. It may prove to be the best move to slide our whole schedule that way.
"One thing that I've been concerned about, and some of my colleagues, is I'm afraid with the new (College Football Playoff), it's going to suck all the oxygen out of a post-January bowl season. We wanted ESPN to tell the story about the best teams in FCS better. We also wanted to experiment a bit with an earlier start, with the possibility in the future we might want to move our championship back to before the bowl season."
For now, though, only one game is on the docket. And what a game it is - Eastern Washington has appeared in the FCS semifinals each of the past two seasons, while Sam Houston State made trips to the FCS title game in 2011 and 2012. Sam Houston State knocked Eastern Washington out of the playoffs in 2012, and toppled the Eagles 49-34 in Huntsville, Texas, last September.