Remember last year when Stanford’s David Shaw and UCLA’s Jim Mora complained vociferously about the number of night games they were playing? WSU, comparatively, is on a record-setting pace.
Last year, Stanford played eight games start at 5 pm or later and UCLA had six at 5 pm or later. After Shaw and Mora complained, their teams -- coincidentally or not -- had more afternoon kicks the last part of the campaign. More telling, perhaps, is the drop in late starts for them this season (see chart below).
The logic behind the high number of Pac-12 night games is of course simple: There's just so much more money now at stake. TV networks want as large a night-time game inventory as it can get. And they should, because the networks made a massive investment in the Pac-12 TV contract and ESPN, Fox and the Pac-12 Networks draw its most viewers for night games.
How important are night games to the networks? This offseason, after coach and fan complaints, the Pac-12 asked ESPN and Fox if they would schedule fewer night games. No chance, came the reply. And so the Pac-12 came up with the new-this-season 11 a.m. broadcast window, and sweetened the ESPN/Fox pot, and reduced the number of night games on the Pac-12 Networks. “ESPN and Fox weren’t willing to have fewer night games, but they’re allowing us to encroach on their exclusive windows in exchange for some non-financial considerations in other areas," Larry Scott told the Mercury News.
But that logic -- the importance of night-game TV inventory and ratings -- has been turned on its head this season. The biggest example: USC and Washington have combined for two (2!) games kicking off at 7 pm or later. Last I checked, L.A. and Seattle were the second- and 14th-largest TV markets in the nation, respectively. The Greater Spokane-Pullman market is a little further down the list. Just a wee. Take it away, Vince Lombardi.
LAST YEAR, Washington State played only three games with a kickoff of 7 pm or later, The 2016 Cougs, meanwhile, have three more game times to be determined. The regular-season finale against UW is set for a 12:30 pm kickoff in Pullman.
For what it’s worth, Mike Leach doesn’t care much if it’s a night game. His preference is for a 1-4 pm start (of which the Cougs have had none this season). Leach’s least favorite starting times are a 10 am or 11 am (of which the Cougs have one this season). But players like Gabe Marks aren’t night fans, especially on the road, and in part because of how it influences Sunday and Monday. This weekend it means the Cougs won’t get back to Pullman until sometime in the early morning hours of Sunday.
PAC-12: MOST STARTS AT 7 PM OR LATER
Note: Arizona and ASU deliberately schedule more night games due to the heat, their night game numbers will always be on the high side. Most Pac-12 teams still have as many as three game times to be determined this season.
Washington State: 5
Oregon State: 1
RELATED STORY: Enjoy this 2015 scheduling, Cougar fans