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College Football’s Late Starts Only Benefit TV Networks

Fans draw the short straw as conferences like the Pac-12 bow to TV's scheduling needs

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott tried to put the best possible spin on the conference’s penchant for 7:30 p.m. kickoffs these days.

“It is actually an advantage for our conference,” Scott (pictured) told the Los Angeles Times. “On any given Saturday there are 50-plus football games going on. There is a lot of dilution of the audience.”

Then he got to the crux of the matter — and the real motivation for football games that begin on Saturday and, on the East Coast, end on Sunday. “It is really our TV partners that like these. It’s part of the new TV deal, with the revenue we got and the commitment that every game would be available nationally. That meant playing eight weeknight games, Thursdays and Fridays. We’re playing more evening windows on Saturday.”

Bingo. And any other nonsense about this being an “advantage” to anyone — particularly the fans — should be taken for the BS that it is.

For fans, the late starts and weeknight games are nothing but a pain. And just wait and see how many empty seats there are at kickoff time when UCLA plays Washington at the Rose Bowl on a Friday night — at 6 p.m., in the heart of rush-hour traffic — later this season. (The same thing has happened with basketball, with the Pac-12 scheduling a lot of 6 and 9 p.m. starts to accommodate TV.)

Moreover, anyone thinking about college football being a family affair should realize that parents who want to take their kids won’t get them home until close to midnight with most of these 7:30 games. (Thanks to TV timeouts, it’s not unusual for a college telecast to run 3 1/2 hours or more, and if you figure extricating yourself from the parking lot and drive time, do the math.)

Scott can spin the situation any way he likes, and there’s no question the Pac-12 and other power conferences have been adept at maximizing their TV revenues as networks jockey for live programming, particularly with the launch of new players like the Pac-12’s dedicated channel and Fox Sports 1. Nor have fans exhibited any sign of rebelling, which only underscores how hooked they are on the product, allowing ESPN’s scheduling wizards to control the whole process, as the New York Times recently detailed.

As that piece noted, “the billions of dollars that ESPN pays for TV rights allow it, in some cases, to decide what time games are played and to have a say in who plays whom and when.” The influence of money over sports is also highlighted by two documentaries airing this month, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” and “Schooled: The Price of College Sports.”

Given all of that, the genie won’t ever be pushed back into the bottle. But Scott and college sports’ other marionettes should spare us the charade of dancing to TV’s tune, then pretending like they had anything to do with writing the melody.

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