Saturday Tue, Wed, Thur, Fri, Sun
Growing up as a kid, Saturday afternoons in the fall meant one thing, college football. In a football-crazy state like Idaho the weekends were pretty clearly divided; Saturday was for college football and Sunday was for NFL; there was no need for any confusion. But somewhere around the early 1980's a small cable channel started to air sports-only programming. We all thought it was a novel idea and hey, where else are you going to be able to watch kickboxing and reruns of the World's Strongest Man Competition? As its popularity exploded this little cable operation became bigger and bigger. Eventually it was swallowed up by the ABC Conglomeration giving it even more clout and power.
With this power the little station that could, ESPN, began airing football. At first it was just small college games and then the bigger divisions and eventually one NFL game each week. And then came the contract with the WAC, more formally known as the Western Athletic Conference. With this contract ESPN has exclusive rights to broadcast WAC games at their choosing. Not only to air them, but also to choose what night of the week they will be played. The home team has the right to decline this schedule change but risk the chance of being dropped by ESPN. Very few ever decline it because of the money involved and a chance of national exposure.
This year alone Boise State has all ready been contracted to play in at least four ESPN games, with only one of them on the day destined for college football, the traditional Saturday afternoon. The three other games were strong-armed by ESPN to be played on a Wednesday, a Thursday, and now a Sunday night. On a Sunday night! What in the name of Paul Tagliabue is going on here? Now Boise State and the WAC not only have to battle the SEC and other powerhouse football conferences for TV viewers but the all-mighty NFL as well.
Is it worth it? We have to remember that student-athletes play college football, student being the first part of that description. These players will have to be pulled out of classes for even more days to play these unusual mid-week schedules, and it makes preparing for the following game even more difficult because the days for preparation have to be shortened. The traveling fans don't like it--who wants to take off several days from work and travel hundreds of miles in the middle of the week to go to a game? The odd start times also make it difficult for TV viewers. In 2004 the Broncos played an ESPN game at San Jose State that started at a local time of 9 am. In 2003 Boise State played an ESPN game on a Thursday at Hawaii that started at 7 P.M. Hawaii Time (that is 9 P.M. Idaho time) and a finish time of about 3am on the east coast.
One has to admit that not all is bad with this contract. In the five years Boise State has been with the WAC and their ESPN TV contract, their fan base has exploded. It is not uncommon now to have fans all over the country if not the world. People who had never heard of Boise State now count them as one of their favorite football teams. Out-of-state enrollment is at an all-time high, and the blue field at Bronco stadium was ranked as one of the most recognized sports icons in the U.S. by a national magazine. In fact most sports fans can tell you where the blue field is at, but many of them could not even tell you what state Boise State resides.
I personally like having games on Friday nights; it is only one day's difference so it does not mess with the schedule too much. It is also the only football game on at that time so every football fan watching TV will be tuned into that game. But mid-week games are too intrusive and Sundays, well Sundays are for NFL and there is no way ESPN should expect the small schools to compete with the big-boys. Of course these days, ESPN is the big boys.