After regular complaints from coaches and others about late-night kickoffs, the Pac-12 is exploring the other end of the spectrum; early-morning kickoffs, beginning as early as 9 a.m. Pacific. And we could see a Pac-12 kickoff that early as soon as this fall. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (seen above in 2017) told College Football Talk’s Bryan Fischer at Pac-12 Media Day Wednesday that the conference is exploring those possibilities in conjunction with Fox (which holds half of the conference’s Tier 1 rights, and which is trying to make its own play to emphasize the noon Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific slot by calling their new-look pregame show Big Noon Kickoff and scheduling strong matchups for that time). Here’s what Fischer wrote on that front:
The conference confirmed they have had preliminary discussions with Fox about having a Pac-12 game kickoff at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET as soon as this season in order to help alleviate night kickoffs and explore a new TV window to maximize exposure on the East Coast. While there would be at most one or two games after Week 3 that would even be eligible (and Mountain Time Zone schools like Utah and Colorado would be chief candidates), it certainly sounds like there’s a real possibility of it happening.
“We’ve discussed it recently. That would be new and out of the box for our conference but I’ve tried to put everything on the table. There’s a lot of frustration from fans in certain markets to the late night kicks,” commissioner Larry Scott told NBC Sports. “I’d like to see one or tow games this season that are 12 noon (ET) kicks be Pac-12 games and see what markets might respond positively to that.”
Scott has only begun to feel out the league’s athletic directors about the idea, which he notes would be completely voluntary for the schools involved. Fans out West have been vocal about having too many nighttime kickoffs in the 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. PT windows, which compromise roughly a third of the league’s schedule on a college football Saturday.
Pac-12 coaches’ reactions to the idea so far seem mixed, with UCLA’s Chip Kelly telling Fischer he’d prefer an early kickoff to the late-evening ones but Stanford’s David Shaw telling Yahoo he doesn’t like it because it would mean waking players up at 6 a.m. (and they’re probably not going to bed super early on a Friday night). And this could definitely pose an obstacle for fans looking to attend games in person, especially those who like pre-game tailgating; games this early mean you’d have to arrive even earlier. This is a little better for Colorado and Utah (they’re on Mountain Time, so 10 a.m. there is noon Eastern) than the West Coast schools, but even 10 a.m. is an earlier start than many are used to.
Still, if this move does happen, it will be largely about TV (which is also what led to those late-night games everyone was previously complaining about, something that’s actually had big benefits for the Pac-12 from a TV side; when they’re one of the only things on, people watch them). And this would fit in with Fox’s attempts to make a splash in the noon Eastern window, and it would provide a counter to some of the complaints about “East Coast media and fans overlook the Pac-12 because they play late!”
But given the Pac-12’s recent on-field performance, it’s questionable if their matchups are really that in-demand, and it’s questionable how much help putting a couple of games at noon Eastern will be. (This is also why they’re exploring these unusual timeslots in the first place; the Pac-12 games that take place at a time when there are lots of matchups elsewhere are often overlooked, which is part of why they’ve been playing the late-night ones.) But perhaps this will help the Pac-12 on their quest to reach the truly desirable statewhere their games can be overlooked on their own merit, rather than because of their starting time.