Late-night kick­offs: Bur­den or boon?

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrick­son

Be­fore Colorado played a sin­gle down of foot­ball this sea­son, head coach Mike MacIn­tyre as­sessed what the NCAA, Pac-12 and tele­vi­sion net­works were ask­ing from the Buf­faloes in sched­ul­ing.

His re­ac­tion? “That’s lu­di­crous.”

Uh, oh. Here we go again. As the col­lege foot­ball sea­son reached its mid­way point, much of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion shifted to West Coast gos­sip af­ter Wash­ing­ton coach Chris Petersen pub­licly lamented the abun­dance of late-night kick­offs, and ESPN an­a­lyst Kirk Herb­streit fired back, “You should be thank­ing ESPN” for the exposure. So, what’s MacIn­tyre’s beef ?

Col­lege foot­ball fans in Colorado have grown ac­cus­tomed to Pac-12 and Moun­tain West games some­times last­ing into the next morn­ing in the Moun­tain Time Zone. Colorado State kicks off at 8:15 p.m. Satur­day against Ne­vada. CU doesn’t start un­til 8:45 p.m. next week at Wash­ing­ton State and has al­ready hosted Petersen’s Huskies with an 8 p.m. kick on Fox Sports 1. Com­bined between both con­fer­ences, 18 of their games have been fea­tured on ei­ther ESPN or ESPN2 this fall — and only three of those kicked off be­fore 6 p.m.

Com­mon sense spells out the neg­a­tives: Less view­er­ship on the East Coast, late travel home, fewer fam­i­lies with chil­dren in at­ten­dance, and the list goes on. But MacIn­tyre knows bet­ter than most how ten­u­ous col­lege foot­ball sched­ul­ing has be­come.

The NCAA ap­proved a new mea­sure for the 2017-18 aca­demic year that man­dates stu­dent-ath­letes re­ceive one full day off from

team ac­tiv­i­ties each week, but in ac­cor­dance with cer­tain travel re­stric­tions. Per NCAA rules, if CU ar­rived back on cam­pus af­ter 5 a.m. Sun­day fol­low­ing a road game, it could not count that day to­ward its to­tal — forc­ing the Buf­faloes to take off needed prac­tice time later in the week.

“If we got back in at 6:15 in the morn­ing from our trip in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia … you’re say­ing that we can go sleep for five or six hours and then come back and have to prac­tice foot­ball?” MacIn­tyre said. “To me, that’s not for the well­ness of the stu­dent-ath­lete.”

CU brought its con­cerns to the NCAA through the Pac-12, MacIn­tyre said, and it ap­proved a waiver that al­lowed the Buf­faloes to keep Sun­day as an off pe­riod even when ar­riv­ing home that same morn­ing.

“You play a hard game and get off the field at (mid­night) your time, fly all the way back, then you bus. It’s re­ally a hard travel,” MacIn­tyre said. “We’ve pe­ti­tioned that, the NCAA granted it be­cause they un­der­stand our sit­u­a­tion. It is tough but that’s just part of it. Teams that come here don’t have it as bad be­cause they lose an hour com­ing back. It’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent for them.”

Said se­nior CU line­backer Derek McCart­ney: “You don’t like hav­ing to get home at 6 in the morn­ing, but in terms of play­ing the game, it doesn’t have a big im­pact.”

MacIn­tyre un­der­stands that his con­cerns fall mostly upon deaf ears con­sid­er­ing the fi­nan­cial ram­i­fi­ca­tions of al­low­ing tele­vi­sion net­works the rights to con­trol kick­off times. In 2011, the Pac-12 signed a 12-year, $3 bil­lion tele­vi­sion con­tract with ESPN and Fox. In 2013, the Moun­tain West signed a seven-year deal with ESPN worth about $116 mil­lion.

With an evolv­ing col­lege foot­ball land­scape, though, might changes within the Pac-12 and Moun­tain West fur­ther al­le­vi­ate the bur­den of late kick­offs?

“I try to look at our West Coast ad­van­tages,” Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott said.

Among Petersen’s problems with late kick­offs is a lack of na­tional exposure as half the coun­try is off to bed while his team makes its case to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off com­mit­tee. But ac­cord­ing to tele­vi­sion rat­ings com­piled by Sport­sMe­di­, the most watched Pac-12 game of the sea­son (4.953 mil­lion view­ers) was for Texas at USC on Sept. 16, and it didn’t end un­til 10:41 p.m. MDT — well af­ter mid­night out east.

“While there is less East Coast view­er­ship, we dom­i­nate (the time slot),” Scott said. “We’ve got the most mar­ket share. While some­what counter-in­tu­itive, the re­search ac­tu­ally shows some of our best-rated games are 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. kick­off times. … of­ten­times more eye­balls than if we’ve got a game kick­ing off at 12:30 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. up against 15 other games on all the myr­iad of me­dia chan­nels that ex­ist. So it’s a bal­anc­ing act, but we’ve clearly un­locked value by agree­ing to mi­grate more games to the evening.”

Moun­tain West com­mis­sioner Craig Thomp­son echoed that sen­ti­ment, con­sid­er­ing his league spans the Moun­tain, Pa­cific and Hawaii Time Zones and faces sim­i­lar sched­ul­ing con­cerns. The Moun­tain West has also shown flex­i­bil­ity in ex­per­i­ment­ing with live streams on non­tra­di­tional plat­forms that have given it more con­trol over kick­off times. The con­fer­ence is broad­cast­ing six games through Face­book’s part­ner­ship with the sports net­work “Sta­dium.”

“Do emerg­ing me­dia plat­forms rep­re­sent the way for­ward for our con­fer­ence, where we take full con­trol of our kick­off times but trust that fans will be able to find our games on new and dif­fer­ent plat­forms?” Thomp­son said. “Along those lines, we’re cur­rently vet­ting a num­ber of al­ter­na­tive meth­ods for con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion.”

The idea of late kick­offs ap­peared a non-is­sue to CSU coach Mike Bobo. He be­lieves the exposure of ESPN2 on Satur­day out­weighs any neg­a­tives, even if po­ten­tial re­cruits on the East Coast are up past mid­night watch­ing the Rams in Fort Collins.

“Those kids don’t go to sleep,” Bobo joked.

But there is lit­tle so­lace for the tra­di­tional fan who views col­lege foot­ball as best viewed from the stands with loved ones. For­mer CSU re­ceiver Ge­orge Hill (2003-07) is a sea­son-ticket holder who lives in Sev­er­ance. Hill and his wife have three chil­dren, ages 12, 3 and 1, and if it weren’t for babysit­ting help from the in-laws, they wouldn’t make it to the game.

“It re­ally puts a halt on things,” Hill said. “Be­ing a sea­son-ticket holder as well, how do I plan around an 8:30 game with a 1-year-old? … Be­ing a for­mer player, you al­ways want your old­est to wit­ness the ex­pe­ri­ence you had. But it’s way bet­ter when it’s a 1:30 game.”

AAron On­tiveroz, The Den­ver Post

The dark of night cov­ers War Memo­rial Sta­dium dur­ing the sec­ond half of Ore­gon’s 49-13 win at Wy­oming on Sept. 16. The game started at 5 p.m. MDT.


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