PAC-12 is testing the waters on 9 a.m. kickoffs for the 2020 season

In this file photo from October 2019, OSU alumni and mascot Benny Beaver line up to welcome the Beavers to the field at the Homecoming football game. While the Beavers don’t currently have any football games scheduled for the early morning, the PAC-12 Conference has begun scheduling a handful of games for 9 a.m. for the first time since the conference expanded to 12 teams.

Thomas Salgado De Almeida Leme, Sports Contributor

Football game days for Oregon State junior David Mallery consist of getting up, shopping and getting lunch with family, and then watching the game. Sophomore Miguel Lugo, however, gets up early in the morning to binge football all day. 

These different approaches to game days may explain why both Mallery and Lugo have different opinions on the 9 a.m. PST kickoff times for football games that the PAC-12 has begun to implement this season. 

The shift to earlier kickoff times was an idea that the PAC-12 had been considering for the past 18 months, yet they were not able to implement it before the 2019 season kicked off. For a conference that had developed a reputation for late kickoff times, the change to start games early in the day is a monumental shift in the status quo.  

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While the entire PAC-12 football schedule for the 2020 season has not been announced yet, the first slate of PAC-12 games already included one 9 a.m. game, with the Arizona State Sun Devils and USC Trojans kicking off at that time to start their season. The PAC-12 has never had games start this early before, marking a big change for fans and leading to some mixed opinions.

“Games at 9 a.m. are actually pretty awesome for college football fans,” said Lugo over direct messaging. “While I love to root for the Beavs, I’m from the East Coast and like to follow teams from back home [in Georgia]. Having these games earlier in the day would allow me to catch most if not all the games for SEC and ACC teams that I follow.”

The idea that this early window for games could lead to more exposure with fans and media on the East Coast is exactly why the PAC-12 decided to pursue this new time for kickoffs. Games at 9 a.m. PST would air at 12 p.m. EST, which is when most games taking place in that time zone tend to start kicking off. 

Given that the majority of people in the United States live in the Eastern time zone, having PAC-12 games air along with games from that time zone should increase exposure for the conference that badly needs it.

Ratings for PAC-12 Championship Games have been consistently lower than those of other Power 5 conferences. In 2018, the PAC-12 Championship had gained a 3.1 viewership rating, compared to 5.6 for the Big-10, 6.8 for the Big-12, and 10.5 for the SEC. 

Additionally, the PAC-12 Network is being watched less than any of the other Power 5 networks, having one-third of the audiences that the Big 10 and SEC networks get, and roughly half of what the brand new ACC network averages. That deficiency in TV relevance is reflecting on the field, as the PAC-12 is the only conference in the Power 5 not getting a team in the College Football Playoff since 2017. 

“We are always looking for opportunities that we have to maximize exposure for our football teams, and early kickoff times present that opportunity, in particular on the East Coast,” said Andrew Walker, the Vice President of Public Affairs for the PAC-12 over email. 

Although the earlier time window may help the PAC-12 gain viewers and support on the East Coast, it may not be something that fans of PAC-12 teams who are on the West Coast and on PAC-12 campuses will particularly enjoy. Mallery is someone who is not a fan of the change, for example, citing concerns about what it will do to the atmosphere of game days and tailgating. 

“I would not be in favor of 9 a.m. games in the future, that would essentially eliminate the [normally wonderful] team spirit and fun before the game,” Mallery said over text. “I personally would not want to wake up before 9 a.m. to go to the game, that’s just my perspective as a college student who wants to sleep in during the weekend.”

However, Mallery was not completely against the 9 a.m. kickoff times as a temporary occurrence. He actually expressed support for these earlier kickoffs for now, while the coronavirus pandemic is going on and large gatherings could happen for games outside of actually watching games in stadiums.

“My first impression is that this is way more corona safe simply because no one is going to want to tailgate before 9 a.m., especially if you’re coming in from out of town,” Mallery said. 

Mallery added that, if he is not able to attend a game, either due to the pandemic or because of it being played away from Corvallis, he wouldn’t mind having an early kickoff very much– since he wouldn’t need to plan his day around going to Reser Stadium. However, he maintained that he would not want future home games starting that early. This view was not shared by Lugo, however. 

“I would most definitely attend a game on Saturday at 9 a.m.,” Lugo said. “It has to be an amazing way to wake up, being there to soak up all that energy and witness the beauty of sportsmanship.”

Luckily for Lugo, it seems that the PAC-12 plans to keep the possibility of 9 a.m. kickoffs in its back pocket for future seasons, so long as the school themselves think it is a good idea.

“We will explore any opportunity that we have to put a PAC-12 game in a window that maximizes national exposure,” Walker said. We do not have any set number of early kickoffs in mind. In all cases, we would work with our schools who would have to be interested in and approve any early kickoffs, as well as our broadcast partners.”

Thus, although it seems the PAC-12 will continue to consider 9 a.m. as an option for a kickoff time, much to Mallery’s chagrin and Lugo’s delight, Oregon State would have to agree to participate in a game in that time slot. So what do members of the Beavers athletic department think? 

Sophomore linebacker Omar Speights, for one, did not seem to mind the possibility too, expressing that he enjoys the idea of not having to deal with butterflies all day before the game, even if it is still much earlier than normal. 

“I mean getting up and getting right to it, it don’t sound too bad to me,” Speights said.”I mean 9 a.m. is kind of early though, [but] just getting after it straight from waking up…not that bad.” 

Yet it seems Beavers fans and players need not get caught up over this possibility for now. Shawn Schoeffler, the Assistant Director for Athletics Communications stated that Oregon State is not currently pursuing the opportunity of 9 a.m. kickoffs at this time. 

For now, Beavers fans just need to be prepared for late kickoffs. The next game for the Beavers is against the Washington Huskies in Husky Stadium at the late window of 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14.