Pac-12 9 a.m. kickoffs off the table — for now

Sam Cooper

Morning kickoffs are still on the table for the Pac-12, but they won’t be happening in 2019.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said last month that the idea of kicking off games as early as 9 a.m. was being discussed by the conference and Fox. However, Andrew Walker, the head of communications for the Pac-12, told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday that the idea has been tabled.

By playing games in the morning on the West Coast, the conference would get some added East Coast exposure. The league wants to further assess the situation, including the games from other conferences it would potentially oppose in the noon ET window if it followed through with the plan in 2020. According to Walker, some Pac-12 schools were interested.

From Wilner’s Pac-12 Hotline:

The conference has opted against scheduling games this season at 9 a.m. PT/10 a.m. MT as a means of gaining exposure on the new FOX broadcast window. Andrew Walker, head of communications for the Pac-12, said several schools are interested in playing early, but the conference couldn’t find “good options” over the coming three months.

The plan, Walker added, is to monitor whichever Big 12 and Big Ten games are slotted into the 9 a.m. window, then re-assess for next season. By delaying any early kickoffs until at least 2020, the Pac-12 will allow time for the schools and fans to plan for the unusual logistics.

“Pac-12 After Dark” has become a staple of every college football Saturday, but those late-night games can be a logistical nightmare for schools, especially with travel. In recent years, coaches have been vocal about how tough it can be on the players to be the visiting team for a game that starts later in the night. Games extending deep into the night can also be difficult for fans.

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SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 27: A view of the PAC12 logo before the University of Washington Spring Game at Husky Stadium on Saturday, April 27, 2019 in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Early-morning kickoff times aren't off the table for the Pac-12, but they won't be happening in 2019. (Getty Images)

David Shaw: ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea’

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Stanford head coach David Shaw acknowledged how rough those night games can be. But he thinks early-morning games would be worse for his players.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think our guys need a full night’s sleep. I like to let them sleep in on game day. We’ve had a lot of late-night games, which aren’t great either, so managing that’s been difficult. I think early-morning games are worse than late-night games,” Shaw said.

“To have a 5:30 a.m. wakeup on a game day, to try to get a good meal at 6 in the morning and then get the most out of them for a three-plus hour stretch where they have to be at their best physically and mentally and emotionally — cutting down on sleep is the last thing we should be doing.”

One coach who was supportive of the idea was UCLA’s Chip Kelly. At Pac-12 Media Days, Kelly told reporters that his team is used to practicing in the morning, so playing early wouldn’t be a difficult adjustment.

“I'd kick off at 6:00 a.m. If you're a college football player or coach, you want to wake up and you want to play football. The hardest thing with Saturdays is when you wake up and then you've got to wait until 7:00 at night,” Kelly said.

”We're also big on we don't control our schedule and when we kick off. So tell us where it is and when we're kicking off, and we'll be there. We practice in the morning, so we're morning people. We'd love to do things in the morning. I don't know if our fans would, but again, I don't have a vote, so I don't care. Just tell us when we're kicking.”

After the 2019 season ends and the 2020 schedule is released, the conference should be able to identify potential games well in advance. That would ease any logistical issues for fans and visiting teams.

Playing a game so early in the morning would undoubtedly impact ticket sales, but the potential ratings boon of a good Pac-12 game airing opposite a sleepy noon Big Ten kickoff on an ESPN network may be worth it for the conference and the television network. Fox is moving its top non-West Coast network game of the weekend up to noon ET in 2019 in an attempt to take advantage of the timeslot.

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