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Mike Leach is no fan of 9 a.m. PT kickoffs for the Pac-12

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But there may be circumstances under which it’s worth exploring.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Never one to be shy about his opinions, Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach took a moment on Twitter last night to ask a question about 9 a.m. PT kickoffs for the Pac-12.

At the risk of reading too much into his question, it seems Leach isn’t exactly a fan of the idea. He followed up the tweet by writing that coaches (and I assume players) would have to start preparing for the game at about 4:30 a.m., and then suggested that it makes more sense for games to start at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m.

This seems to line up with the general consensus of fans, who aren’t real jazzed about the idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to travel and watch a football game — or, if they’re at home, to have the best part of their Saturday over (and perhaps the day ruined) before lunch.

However, it’s an idea that’s getting some traction with non-fans. The idea itself seems to have originated with San Jose Mercury News writer Jon Wilner as a way to potentially increase exposure for a conference that plays a stunning number of games after half the country has gone to bed or is heading that direction.

Take, for example($), Andy Staples (formerly of Sports Illustrated, now of The Athletic):

Breakfast At The Rose Bowl or Omelettes At Autzen might help deliver the Pac-12 what its leaders and coaches desire. For years, the people in the league have told us that an East Coast Bias has hampered the Pac-12’s ability to make the Playoff and compete for Heisman trophies. ...

If the people in charge truly believe an exposure gap is costing their teams national prestige and costing their players awards, then they need to work to close that gap. Placing some of their best games in a place the other leagues mostly abandon until November would draw more eyeballs to the Pac-12’s teams on television. It might keep the stadium from filling up, but if it helps more people see and appreciate the Pac-12’s brand of football, wouldn’t that be a fair trade?

One of the points I’ve seen floating around from opponents is that it wouldn’t result in that much increased exposure — as in, “why would anyone watch the Pac-12 when the SEC, ACC and Big Ten are on at that time?” Staples pushes back on that, noting that the games in that time slot are typically pretty meh:

Had that Washington-Oregon game started at noon Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific, it would have been up against Florida-Vanderbilt, Nebraska-Northwestern, Oklahoma State-Kansas State, Iowa-Indiana and Minnesota-Ohio State. That Nebraska-Northwestern game had an incredible finish, but on paper it didn’t seem that exciting. Given a menu that included those games and Washington-Oregon, the bulk of the viewing public without a rooting interest would have clicked over to Eugene. (And the number would have risen as the outcome of some of those other matchups became obvious.)

Now, the one assumption that Staples makes that I’m not sure anyone else is making is that the games will be “some of their best games.” That’s probably the difference between this maybe moving the needle and probably being pretty pointless.

Oh, and there’s one other thing I think people might be overlooking, in terms of how much value this might have: The discussions about this appear to be with FOX, which is launching its own pregame show to try and rival ESPN GameDay. The show is on the Big FOX broadcast network, and I presume the Pac-12 game would follow that on the same channel.

Now, I don’t think all that many people will watch the FOX pregame show, but there certainly has to be some people who will, and there has to be some value to being the game it leads into — again, on an over-the-air broadcast channel that everyone gets. Burying it over on FS1 would probably defeat the purpose.

If it happens, here’s what I’d like to see: Start with a game in the Mountain time zone, which would kickoff at a seemingly more reasonable 10 a.m. local time. (The Pac-12 already has some 11 a.m. games.) Utah Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at Pac-12 media day that he would welcome it:

Q. There’s talk that there might be a morning kickoff, and it possibly could be 10:00 a.m. --

KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Would love it. The only thing better than 10:00 a.m. is 9:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. The sooner we can get the ball in the air, that’s great.

Q. No concern with sleep?

KYLE WHITTINGHAM: No, we’d adjust. We’ve played those games before. It’s been few and far between, but we’ve had those 10:00 a.m. kickoffs in the past. Jump at the chance for that.

I don’t know when Utah had 10 a.m. kickoffs — maybe in the Mountain West? — but Whittingham doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. I’m guessing he’s also relishing the opportunity to get his program some exposure, and figures to have a bit of an added home-field advantage when the visitors have to get up early at a hotel. Utah also makes sense from a competitive standpoint, given that they’re likely to at least begin the year as a top 25 team, so there could be a draw there for non-Pac-12 eyeballs. It’s also probably a given that the Utah crowd would relish the opportunity to show out for the game.

Funny side note — the best candidate for this game for the Utes this year is probably WSU on Sept. 28. The Utes’ other home games are the Arizona State Sun Devils, California Golden Bears, UCLA Bruins, and Colorado Buffaloes. Those are all yawn-worthy, but a game against WSU would probably feature a pair of top 25 teams, even though neither will be a marquee name.

I’m cool with a 9 a.m. PT kickoff if its trial run comes at Utah or Colorado. Then we can measure — with ratings data — if it really had the intended impact before deciding whether to continue with even earlier kicks at other campuses. We all know that a 9 a.m. kickoff would be less than ideal in Pullman, although selfishly it would be a great game to take my family to. Drive over on Friday, stay in Pullman, get the kids up at 7 a.m. to go to the game, tailgate after? Yeah, that would be fine with me. But I know it would suck for almost everyone else.

One of our writers, PJ Kendall, went on record back on June 9 as being intrigued after running down the pros and cons, which might be worth re-reading. What about you? Has your thinking evolved on this at all?

Poll

9 a.m. PT kickoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Unequivocally on board
    (66 votes)
  • 15%
    On board, but only if it’s Not In My Back Yard
    (72 votes)
  • 69%
    This is a dumb idea all around
    (316 votes)
454 votes total Vote Now