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Does the Early Bird Kickoff Get the Ratings? PAC-12 Hopes So

21 Aug, 2019

By: Michael Popke
Earlier Game Times (Maybe 9 a.m.) Meant to Appease Viewers on East Coast

In an effort to maximize television exposure to East Coast college football fans — as well as alleviate a slate of games starting as late as 7:30 p.m. (PST) — the Pac-12 Conference might move some opening kickoffs to 9 a.m. (PST).

“We’ve discussed it recently,” conference commissioner Larry Scott recently told NBC Sports. “That would be new and out of the box for our conference, but I’ve tried to put everything on the table. There’s a lot of frustration from fans in certain markets to the late-night kicks. I’d like to see one or two games this season that are 12 noon (EST) kicks be Pac-12 games and see what markets might respond positively to that.”

The Pac-12 is the only Power 5 conference with schools in the Pacific time zone, and it’s affecting the conference’s national exposure, according to Scott. 

Conference officials confirmed to NBC Sports that they’ve had preliminary discussions with FOX Sports about implementing the time change as early as this season.

“The reason we play almost a third of our games at night is that was a way to unlock significant value from television in our last [negotiations],” Scott told OregonLive.com last fall. “ESPN and Fox placed a high value on us giving them a little more flexibility and being willing to play more night games.”

Obviously, things have changed.

“They could kick off at 6 a.m.,” saidChip Kelly, head coach of Pac-12 powerhouse UCLA. “The hardest thing, if you’re a college football player, is when you wake up and have to wait until 7 o’ clock at night. We don’t control our schedule and when we kick off, so tell us when we’re kicking off and where it is, and we’ll be there. If [Scott] wants us to play at 9 a.m., we’ll play at 9.”

Washington State head coach Mike Leach, on the other hand, is not a fan of shifting the schedule so dramatically.

“Well, I’m against 9 o’clock kickoffs,” he told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash. “No part of it makes any sense to me.”

He even tweeted about the idea: “Do ANY West Coast fans actually think that it is a good idea to have 9am games?” 

As observers have pointed out, Pac-12 teams wouldn’t be subjected to playing 9 a.m. games on a weekly basis — and perhaps not even more than once a season.

Jon Wilner, a sportswriter for The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., is an early supporter of 9 a.m. kickoffs and writes that they could have a cumulative impact. “The early kickoffs may or may not result in more TV eyeballs on Pac-12 football — it depends on the matchup and the competition on other networks — but the early games would create an order-of-magnitude increase in exposure for the participants via the influential, narrative-shaping highlight shows that air throughout the day,” he recently wrote.

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