If you’re a Pac-12 fan living east of the Rockies, the conference leaves you with two choices on Saturday nights. You can watch your team play, or you can sleep. You can’t do both.
The Pac-12’s Pacific time zone locale has become its best friend and worst enemy under its new television contract. One one hand, it’s given the league the national exposure it so desperately needs and the content ESPN and Fox paid a combined $4.3 billion for. On the other, it means a 10:30 ET kickoff asks displaced fans and alumni to stay up through 2:30 a.m. to see their team play.
Of course, it’s not the fans you should feel for here. There are many worse ways to spend a Saturday night than watching quality football. It’s the players and coaches waiting until 3 or 4 a.m. Pacific time to arrive back at campus week after week that are most affected by the television-driven world they now live in.
“I understand getting all our games on (TV) and trying to find windows,” Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. “I get that. But they have to consider us having two weeks in a row with our kids traveling and getting home at 3 or 4 in the morning. They have to think about that a little more. That has to enter into the equation. We should never have two in a row. It’s hard on these kids. it’s hard on all of us. It’s a rough start to the week. And fans traveling home that late at night, it’s scary.”
As noted by Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune notes, six of Washington State’s first eight games are night affairs. Oregon State is in the midst of three consecutive night games. And they’re not alone.
Some of this is unavoidable. Other conferences – and I’m mainly talking about the SEC here – set up camp at the 7 p.m. ET time slot many years ago, and they’re not giving it back. ESPN has found an audience for the late night kicks, Eggers notes Wisconsin at Arizona State and Washington at Stanford were two of the highest-rated games on their respective Saturdays, and the Pac-12 is obviously a natural fit.
But there is a middle ground here.
I’d suggest guaranteeing teams no more than one night game per season for games televised by Pac-12 Networks. Coaches and athletics directors will trade a late arrival for the national exposure ESPN (and Fox, to a lesser extent) offer, but the Pac-12 Networks doesn’t have that kind of reach. In a conference where nearly every road game requires boarding an airplane, limiting the 7:30 p.m. PT window would help the conference in two ways: it gets teams home before the graveyard shift, and it keeps the Pac-12 from competing against itself for television viewers.
“Those are always concerns,” Pac-12 deputy commissioner/chief operating officer Kevin Weiberg said. “There is a travel burden. We’re trying to strike the right balance on those things. I don’t think any school had more than three of its home games at night this season. The Arizona schools (which opt for night games because of the heat) may be an exception. We’re trying to be mindful of those things. Whenever we have an athletic directors’ meeting, those issues are discussed.
“We try to work cooperatively to make sure there is some balance. You can’t be perfect in that regard necessarily, but we do have some ability to make sure nobody has too many games at night.”