According to sources both "inside and outside the conference," Pac-12 officials are seeking to strike a deal with their network partners, ESPN and Fox, that would allow their teams to play fewer night games in future seasons.
As reported by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News:
I wouldn't necessarily characterize the back-and-forth as negotiations, because the league has a contract with ESPN and Fox that isn't going away for a decade.
But Pac-12 officials were not happy with the '13 broadcast schedule and are working with their partners to find an acceptable resolution for all parties involved. One source called the league's approach "fair but firm."
Almost every team in the Pac-12 plays in the Pacific Time Zone, three hours behind teams that play on the East Coast. ESPN and Fox typically assign them late kickoffs—something the conference understood when it signed the broadcast deals—in order to satisfy the most possible viewers.
However, the late kickoffs often lead to games that finish around 1 or 2 a.m. ET, which hurts the league's exposure and, thus, perception.
In 2013, for example, the SEC was once again regarded by the public as the undisputed class of college football, even though advanced metrics like the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings suggested the Pac-12 was nearly as good (if not better).
If more people had a chance to watch the Pac-12's games, would there be less of a disconnect between numbers and belief?
Wilner addressed these inevitable time-zone problems by reminding us, prudently, that ESPN and Fox are not the "bad guys" in this situation. They're just doing reasonable business:
And the time zone issue is unavoidable: ESPN and Fox have no choice but to create their programming schedule in an east-to-west fashion. They have plenty of options at 3:30/4 p.m. Eastern and at 7/7:30/8 p.m. Eastern, but not so much for the late night window.
They just aren't going to start games in Norman or Austin at 9:30 p.m. local time.
Neither of those issues is going to change when it comes to future Pac-12 football programming.
The networks will keep scheduling east-to-west, and Fox will keep putting Pac-12 games on FS1 to generate ratings. (Live college football draws more eyeballs than anything else it could show at that time.)
From the point of view of the networks, it's hard to divine a solution that would satisfy the Pac-12's request, especially given further contract details (alluded to by Wilner), such as how many games each network must broadcast on Saturdays and ABC's "Games of the Week," which must be aired between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. PT.
Putting a Pac-12 game in that spot would throw a wrench in the rest of the schedule.
The networks want to air as much live football as logistically possible, and teams in the Pacific Time Zone lend themselves better to late kickoffs than teams from other time zones. That is a basic, geographical truth of our planet.
Still, it likely won't be enough to placate people inside the Pac-12 office (or fans of the conference) who want to see their games broadcast to as many live eyeballs as possible on every coast.
This is a situation worth monitoring.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeighDAT.
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