There are numerous upsides to the new Pac-12 Network, chief among them the millions of dollars that pour into conference schools, the national exposure Pac-12 teams receive from the likes of ESPN and FOX and, for all diehards except those who subscribe to DirectTV, the ability to see every game on television — if they can stay awake.
The major complaint about the Pac-12 Network, at least so far, is that too many games, especially those involving elite teams, start too late in the day and have become an inconvenience, if not a major hassle, for fans who have to travel any distance to attend them (or even if they don’t have to travel that far).
This was underscored last week when numerous Oregon fans, especially those residing outside Eugene, lodged a complaint over the rash of 7:30 p.m. kickoff times. The Ducks had three consecutive such contests, from Arizona Sept. 22 through last weekend’s wipeout of Washington.
Overall, four of Oregon’s games have started at 7:30 p.m. this season while another began at 3:30 p.m. Oregon fans get something of a “break” this week, when the Ducks will kick off at 6 p.m. The Ducks have played just one traditional day game, against Tennessee Tech Sept. 15, which began at 12:30 p.m.
By contrast, Oregon played just one game under the lights at Autzen Stadium in 2011, and the Ducks still face the prospect of more night-owlish starts, given the school’s high national ranking.
Last week, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens wrote a letter to Ducks fans explaining how the school lobbied for an earlier start time for its match with Washington. Mullens said that, per the Pac-12’s contract with ESPN, game times are decided by the network, not by the school.
The primary issue for Ducks fans (and for Huskies fans as well), is the travel involved for those driving to Eugene from outside the Portland area. The latest start times means that a majority of games are now ending around 11 p.m.
Washington hasn’t played as many 7:30 p.m. contests as Oregon, but the Huskies have had two such starts (San Diego State and Oregon), two 6 p.m. starts (LSU and Stanford), and have a 7 p.m. game on the docket, Arizona Oct. 20.
Only one of Washington’s games — Portland State Sept. 15 — started in what used to the traditional time for a college football kickoff, 1 p.m. Washington has only one more game scheduled whose time has been announced, which will be played during the day, the Apple Cup Nov. 23 in Pullman — the day after Thanksgiving when few students will be on campus and fewer Seattle fans will be in the mood drive over after the holiday.
Last year, Washington had a pair of 7:30 p.m. starts, for Arizona and Oregon. Only one other game, Stanford, started as late as 5 p.m.
The biggest game on Washington’s home schedule so far, the Sept. 27 win over No. 8 Stanford, drew 55,941, far lower than expected. We can’t help but wonder if the late start didn’t keep many fans from attending, and whether a continued glut of late games will ultimately transform the Pac-12’s football audience into mainly TV watchers, simply for the convenience of not having to beat the milkman home.
The way things are trending, college football is going to have to introduce day/night statistics, common in major league baseball.
The Alabama-Birmingham News asked an appropriate question about the late start times of college football games, which we will repeat here, as it pertains to the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars, who have had two 7:30 p.m. starts and only one “day game,” Homecoming vs. Colorado Sept. 22. Comments are encouraged.