Pac-12 seeking to reduce number of late-night football kickoffs

Christian Petersen

THIS JUST IN: Taking billions of dollars from corporate entities means they'll probably do what's in their best interest, not yours!

In the least surprising news ever, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is trying to make football Saturdays more palatable for the conference's fans by reducing the number of 7 p.m. kickoffs.

However, what he's actually able to do about it is questionable.

Scott's tenure generally has been hailed a wild success, thanks largely to the $3 billion media rights deal he spearheaded with ESPN and Fox that will put hundreds of millions of dollars in each athletic department's budget. But it hasn't been without its hiccups, whether it's the failure to secure carriage for the Pac-12 Networks on DirecTV or, as John Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News explored yesterday, the seeming unending parade of 7 p.m. Pacific Time kickoffs last football season that both irritated fans and obscured exposure for a conference that might have been the country's best last season.

This is particularly problematic for WSU, owing to the remote nature of the campus. WSU's ideal start time is 2 p.m., allowing for west side travelers to make the trip across the pass on Saturday morning and stay in Pullman for just one night while also giving those driving down from Spokane a drive home at a reasonable time after the game. Starting a game at 7 p.m. is, quite frankly, a deterrent for anyone who lives within day-trip driving distance of WSU. Driving to Spokane or Tri-Cities at midnight isn't exactly my idea of a good (or safe) time.

Three of WSU's five games in Pullman started at 7 p.m. or later, and that number climbs to four when the Seattle game is included. Overall, six of WSU's 12 regular season games started at 7 p.m. Pacific Time or later.

There's not really anything all that groundbreaking in Wilner's piece -- of course Scott will be trying to appease his stakeholders by trying to get the broadcast partners to help him have fewer 7 p.m. kickoffs -- but it does emphasize the central snag in all of this: Scott's lawyers got circles run around them in the contract, and he's now stuck pleading things like "spirit of the contract" to get some relief.

Wilner speculates that because of the ironclad nature of the contract -- remember, ESPN and Fox did nothing to breech the contract last season -- Scott's strategy likely will revolve around the "window of exclusivity."

As noted above, ESPN and Fox will not ... cannot ... change their programming methodology because of the time zone issue.

But here's what they can do: They can reduce or eliminate the exclusive window for the over-the-air broadcasts on ABC and Big FOX.

Maybe they eliminate it altogether.

Maybe they scrap it for half of the 10 broadcasts.

Either way, it would create more flexibility for the Pac12Nets.

I don't know the specifics of the options being discussed.

But I know this: If nothing changes, the uproar from fans and campuses will be significant.

How are you going to feel if Scott is unable to gain any relief for the conference? They're mostly just an inconvenience for me, because I don't generally travel to the games. Are the late games a problem for you?

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