There’s an event that takes place every weekend during the football season. Fans love to watch it but hate it when their team is involved. It’s become an anomaly over the years, often providing fireworks that can be felt throughout the college football nation on Saturday nights, and into Sunday morning when the East Coast wakes up.
It’s Pac-12 After Dark.
With the Pacific time zone, teams on the West Coast have grown accustomed to playing a game or two late at night, filling the final television window of the day and often kicking off at 7:30 p.m. That’s where the No. 6 Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans will find themselves on Saturday, occupying the night slate for FOX in a game that many fans will have on TV while winding down for the day.
While it’s easy to see the value of this from a consumer’s standpoint, and especially from a network’s standpoint, it’s important to also look at it from a player’s standpoint.
When you’re used to getting up and going out to play football during the heat of the day, how much more difficult is it to sit around for hours on Saturday and save your physical peak for a late-night performance?
“Well, it’s out of my control. It is what it is,” QB Bo Nix said when asked on Tuesday. “I don’t mind a good night game once in a while. I do know that family back on the East Coast is going to have to stay up a little late so that part stinks for them, but that’s part of it. I’m just excited to be on TV and playing against a good opponent.”
Over the years, Pac-12 fans and coaches have grown louder about their disagreement with the late-night window, justifiably claiming that it is part of the reason that the conference is not viewed on the same level as those like the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten when it comes to Heisman voting and College Football Playoff consideration. The reason is that with so many big games played late at night, voters are often turning off the television shortly after the game starts at 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast, and fast asleep by the time the second half even starts after midnight.
Earlier this year, UCLA coach Chip Kelly let it be known that he wishes to get rid of night games all together going forward, despite what the TV networks have to say about it.
“College football should be played on Saturday afternoon on every campus in this country like the old days,” Kelly said in an interview with John Canzano. “The tradition and history. As (former Oregon defensive coordinator) Nick Aliotti used to say, ‘I want to get up, touch our toes and smash.’ I don’t want to wait around because that’s the time slot we have. Let’s get up and play ball.”
I asked Oregon coach Dan Lanning for his thoughts on this earlier this week with the news coming out that the USC game wouldn’t kick until 7:30 p.m. While it may not be his first choice in time slots, it hardly impacts his attitude about the contest.
“I mean, I don’t pick it. So let’s play,” Lanning said.
Aside from the players pacing themselves throughout the day and making sure they are at their best by the time 7:30 rolls around, Lanning also notes that the fans need to be thinking about that as well.
“I’m expecting an elite atmosphere from our fans. They’ve gotta maybe start a little bit later in the day and not get too excited before the game starts,” Lanning said. “But night games are fun. I always liked Friday night lights in high school, so I’m all for it.”
The preparation is what becomes key for the players. While they may not often play late at night in college, every player grew up playing under the Friday Night Lights in high school, with many games kicking somewhere between 5-7 p.m. This shift on Saturday may be new for Oregon players this season, but it’s hardly something they’ve never seen before.
“I think most of us, we’re used to playing at night,” Nix said. “You know, we have our whole lives. That’s usually when we played a lot of ball so we’re accustomed to it. It would just be a little shake up but we’ll be prepared and we’ll be ready to go.”
Fortunately for the Ducks, and for Duck fans, there are a lot of really good games that will be on throughout the day while Oregon waits for their kickoff against USC, so staying entertained won’t be a problem. In the downtime, everyone needs to just make sure that they kick back, relax, and prepare for an eventful evening.
“We just got to make sure that we rest up, make sure we eat and hydrate, and take care of our bodies throughout the day so that you feel refreshed when the game starts,” Nix said. “They’ll have a really good schedule for us, so they’ll take care of us in that way. I’m just excited to get to kick off.”