You may have noticed something different about USC’s schedule in 2013. In fact, the whole Pac-12 did.
Night games. Lots and lots of night games.
So many, in fact, that the conference is pressuring its network partners to make some changes.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News laid out the problem:
There were more night games than league officials expected.
The launch of Fox Sports 1 was part of the problem, as I documented during the fall. Games that were on FX in the afternoon in 2012 often became night kickoffs on FS1 in ’13.
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.
Wilner also pointed out issues of exclusivity, because under the Pac-12′s new TV agreement, only one Pac-12 game can be shown on any network between 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm. As Wilner puts it: “If FOX broadcasts a game at 4 p.m., or if ABC shows a game at 5 p.m., then no other Pac-12 games can be televised until 7:30.”
The Trojans had six games kick off after 5:00 pm pacific in 2013. That’s nearly half of the 13-game regular season schedule.
To put that into perspective, USC played just one “late game” in 2012 — a 6:00 pm kick off on a Thursday night in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 2011, four games kicked off in the late slot, two at 6:00 pm versus Cal and Colorado, both on weekdays, one at 7:15 pm versus Arizona State and one at 7:00 pm versus UCLA.
The 2010 slate featured three late kick offs and just one Thursday game. In 2009, the Trojans had one 7:15 pm kick off and no games midweek.
Late kick offs present plenty of logistical problems. They make it difficult for families to attend games because a 7:00 kick off means the game won’t finish until closer to 11:00 pm.
Beyond that, late kick offs present additional problems when it comes to tailgating. In 2011, the late kick off for the UCLA game was criticized for increasing the potential for problems stemming from intoxication. Longer tailgates equal more drinking, which can lead to big problems when you gather 90,000 fans of bitter rivals into one space.