The Pac-12's Thursday and Friday Night Games Could Hurt the Pac-12's Reputation
Remember the days of yore when Thursday and Friday night games consisted of MAC, C-USA and Sun Belt football with an occasional Big East game thrown in to whet our appetites for the ensuing Saturday of "real" games?
Those weekday games were a great source of exposure for mid-major conference teams because they didn't have to compete with BCS teams for viewership on a given Saturday. Except for the first week of college football season, when games can be spread out over a six-day period if Labor Day falls around that first weekend, most high-profile teams don't play games during the week.
The Pac-12, however, is attempting to change that culture. This upcoming season its teams will be playing on both Thursday and Friday nights.
USC will play two Thursday games and one Friday game in the 2013 season. The Trojans open at Hawai'i on August 29 and this isn't a bad slot at all—most college football fans will be starving for football and will tune in to watch the game.
The Trojans' other two weekday games—USC vs. Arizona on October 10 and USC at Oregon State on November 1—are question marks.
Last year Oregon played a Thursday night game at Arizona State in which it led 43-7 at the half; the Ducks ended up winning 43-21. The game's final score indicated Oregon's offense was shut out in the second half while Arizona State managed to score 14 points on Oregon's defense. Yes, that's a truth, but unless you stayed up to watch the entire game, you wouldn't have had the entire story: Oregon rested a lot of its starters in the second half.
And generally speaking, the Pac-12 as a whole can get totally lost in the football landscape when it schedules games at 6 pm local time or later.
At least half of Oregon's games were scheduled at 6 pm local time or later, which meant a large majority of fans were in bed or out on the town by the time its games reached the halftime point—outstanding running back Kenjon Barner had some Heisman-worthy performances yet he wasn't invited as a Heisman finalist.
The Pac-12 may have to do some serious rethinking when it comes to scheduling its games past 4 pm local time if it wants more exposure. It also needs to rethink how weekday games will help its reputation.
When your conference is competing against MAC and Sun Belt teams for weekday viewership, something isn't right. For what it's worth, not one SEC team is set to play in a weekday game this upcoming season—that could always change, but as of now, the SEC is taking ownership of fall Saturdays while the Pac-12 is cornering the market on weekday games.
USC has the most weekday games (three) scheduled of any Pac-12 team, and it can't be a coincidence that USC is also the league's most visible team.
Two of the three teams with the worst records in the Pac-12 last season—Cal (3-9) and Colorado (1-11)—did not get scheduled for any weekday games. Coincidence? In any case, the Pac-12 will see those games lost among the other 50 or so games on a typical fall Saturday. Again, it must be a coincidence.
One team with a 3-9 record, Washington State, does have two weekday games scheduled, but the opportunity for Mike Leach to provide bizarre or eccentric sound bites before, during and after the games is probably why the Cougars got in on the Thursday and Friday night rotations. The Mike Leach factor is one that can never be underestimated when it comes to television ratings.
Nevertheless, the Pac-12 needs to rethink its whole scheduling plan. Most Pac-12 games shouldn't start after 4 pm local time, and almost all of its games should be on a Saturday when the rest of the big boys play because the Pac-12 is a big boy.
The Pac-12 sent two teams to BCS bowls, and both won: Oregon defeated Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford defeated Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl. The league doesn't need to be diminishing the conference's reputation by having it play when the mid-majors play.
But more than anything else, the weekday games will ostensibly be starting at 6 pm local time and that's when most of the league's West Coast fans will still be at work or stuck in traffic.
Empty stadiums do not look good on television—anyone remember that embarrassing turnout at the 2012 Pac-12 Championship in Palo Alto, CA?—and asking fans to fill a stadium in media markets like Los Angeles where traffic is always a nightmare is asking to be college football nation's national punchline.
In essence, the Pac-12 is scheduling weekday games—with some of the games to be aired on the Pac-12 Network—while everyone is either at work or in their car. Meanwhile, College Gameday is routinely traveling to SEC country and broadcasting its Game of the Week on Saturdays, when most folks are not working.
One conference gets it and is a big boy. The other conference doesn't get it and needs to schedule better to keep being a big boy.
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