This past week, Washington head coach Chris Petersen and ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit became the talk of the college football world when it came to late kickoff times.
Some context to catch you up if you're not familiar with the story. Leading up to their game against Cal last week, Petersen said that the Huskies playing at night every week hurt them in terms of exposure because no one on the East Coast wants to watch games that don't kick off until 10 PM or later.
Then, on College GameDay, Herbstreit fired back, saying that Petersen and the Huskies should be thanking ESPN for even airing their games at all.
There were more shots taken at the Huskies by the ESPN crew during the game on Saturday night, but that’s not what I'm here for. I just want to chime in on a few opinions surrounding the Pac-12 and late kickoffs.
If you're a top team on the West Coast, you're going to play more often at night. Let’s look at Oregon for example. In 2015, when Oregon was fresh off a trip to the national championship, they played seven of their 12 games at 6:00 PM PT or later. The next year, after they had fallen off the national radar, they played only three games at 6:00 PM PT or later.
So why do the best teams get the latest kickoffs? It’s simply a time zone thing. If you look at this week’s schedule of college football games on ESPN.com, 48 of the 55 games on the schedule kick off before 6:00 PM PT. As it stands now, only six games kickoff at 7:00 PM or later. ESPN thinks they're doing Washington a favor by scheduling them for a game with less competition for ratings, hence the reason for Herbstreit’s comment. (For the record, Herbstreit didn't know until after the show that Washington hasn't kicked off before 5:00 PM PT this year, which he agreed was ridiculous)
Now, let’s throw Washington into the 12:30 PT slot like Petersen wants. Instead of competing for ratings with five other games, Washington would have 13 games kicking off at the same time around the country, including kickoffs for No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 10 Auburn, No. 11 Miami, No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 14 Oklahoma State. If you think nobody watches your games now, have fun competing with all those games, including the Red River Shootout this weekend. Put any other team on the West Coast, and they'd have the same problems.
So while I don't buy his whole, “It hurts our exposure” bit, I do see his frustration when your games are at 5:00 PM PT or later week in and week out. Night games used to be something special in football. Now, not only is it routine, it’s a nuisance. It’s completely unnecessary to play Montana at 5:00 PM, Fresno State at 6:30 PM, and so on.
I remember covering Oregon football in 2012 and 2013 when night games at Autzen Stadium were to be expected. For a 7:00 PM kickoff, we’d arrive at the stadium probably around 4:00 or 4:30, go through the game that wouldn't end until almost 11:00, go through press conferences, interviews, writing stories, etc. If we got out of the stadium before 1:00 AM, it was considered a win. It was exhausting for us and it was probably exhausting for the fans and the players, who usually had to be right back at practice the next day.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy the night games, or would you rather see more Pac-12 games kick-off during the day?