Just like last season, no one in the conference has been eager to play in the Lincoln Financial opener. The heat indexes all across the south are hitting triple digits right now, and no one with any regard for their fans wants to put them in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions. Of all the stadium options available to play a game at that time of day, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is likely the worst. The same qualities which make it so loud will also make it extraordinarily hot - a steep, enclosed venue with virtually nowhere for a breeze to blow should there be one that day. With the sun directly overhead at kickoff, there'll be almost no shade available for fans no matter where they're located in the stadium. Many ticket holders, particularly older ones, may opt not to attend rather than expose themselves to those kind of conditions.
In addition, Florida and WKU supporters who've booked flights and hotel rooms based on a 6 p.m. kickoff have had their plans completely thrown into chaos with 19 days warning.
There are several reasons this decision is so irritating. Florida and Western Kentucky isn't the best game available. Troy at Arkansas is a much more interesting affair. The last nine months for Houston Nutt and company has been an extensively chronicled circus. Between that and the leading returning Heisman vote getter in Darren McFadden, there are some interesting angles to focus on with the Razorbacks.
As for Troy, the Trojans won the New Orleans Bowl last season and stayed within seven of FSU at Doak Campbell in a game they actually led for a large part of the second half. They're also Florida's next opponent, giving Gator fans a reason to tune in. With a potentially competitive game and interest going in from Arkansas, the Memphis market, Florida, and some in Alabama for Troy, it would seem this would be a pretty appealing game for L-F. Clearly, they feel having the defending national champions steamroll a hopelessly overmatched opponent in a game so bad Las Vegas won't even post a line on it was what southern viewers will prefer.
Alabama against Western Carolina offers a better storyline than Florida's game as well, with Nick Saban's debut of greater interest to most SEC fans even though the game should be just as noncompetitive as Florida's. The Crimson Tide are on Lincoln Financial already in week two though, and thus were able to avoid back-to-back 11:30 a.m. central kicks.
My question is why the SEC can't do something to fix what's clearly a bad situation for everyone? Fans are making travel plans and deciding whether to reserve hotels based on game times. Everyone knows the start of games may shift during the season, but there's no excuse for the first week choice to drag on to within three weeks of the game. None of the options suddenly improved. If Florida fans were going to get stuck making a choice between watching their team play and what's best for their health, the least the SEC and Lincoln Financial could have done is make sure they didn't wind up losing money on rescheduled flights and hotel rooms they didn't need.
The SEC's TV package is up for bid soon. Just as the CBS SEC package doesn't begin until week three, it appears the Lincoln Financial package shouldn't either unless a way can be arranged for it to begin at a more reasonable kickoff time. Many believe the Lincoln Financial syndication package will either be scooped up by someone else or become a property for a new SEC TV network.
Another option could be making the first weekend's Lincoln Financial game a special 6 p.m. Sunday game. With the season opening Labor Day weekend, we've seen SEC schools like Ole Miss and Kentucky play games on other days than Saturday of that weekend for television in the past. It's worth looking at if it avoids fans being stuck in triple digit temperatures at kickoff time in the future.
I spoke with Lincoln Finanical Executive Producer Jimmy Rayburn earlier this month and asked who would make the final call on this situation if nothing could be arranged voluntarily. He said that situation had never occurred before, but was confident the SEC would handle it. Now it has happened, and it's too late to fix the problem for this year. The SEC needs to address it so it doesn't happen again.