Saturday's kickoff will mark the fourth game where kickoff is after 7:00 PM local time, and it's very likely this won't be Washington's last late night kickoff, with times not yet set for the final three games of the season. When it was announced, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez went on quite the rant about how he feels they are "ridiculous" and how tough it is for the student athletes to try and manage this schedule. As a fan who is not local (which there are many that frequent the site) this sometimes means staying up until past two in the morning just to watch the offense go three and out and line up in a fancy punt formation. For those who are local, this still means not getting home until after midnight, at the earliest. But in the end, do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
Why Late Kickoffs Are Good For Everyone
There are more quality games than there are network primetime slots every week, making it impossible to get the perfect kickoff time every week for every team in the conference. If you add in the desire to not have the entire conference playing at the same time, forcing your viewers to choose between multiple overlapping Pac-12 games, you are forced so spread it all out, which even further limits the possibilities for starting times. This is the price you pay if you want the huge television deals, and you want the major networks on national television showing your games. This reflects both the fan base and the potential recruiting base, who would rather be able to watch their Huskies on a national station than be forced to choose between watching Washington vs. whoever, or Ohio State vs. whoever, or Washington State vs. whoever, and so on. The "Hardcore" fanbase would watch every game in standard definition on telemundo at 4 in the morning, but you'll get the most eyeballs if it's on a quality network at a quality time, and all of that is important if you want to be popular and relevant. Eyes that are droopy and tired are still eyes on the program.
The Game Experience
There's just something about late games. Maybe it's the lights, or it's the sunset, or it's the suspense that has been built all day for kickoff (or buzz/drunkenness, whatever you want to call it). Whatever it is, night games just feel special, and that can't be replicated for whatever reason for earlier games. This may be a symptom of the current system, but regardless, a raucous crowd just feels more impactful when you're kind of sleepy and running off pure adrenaline. As hard as I can try to describe this, it's just not possible. They just feel different, and they just feel right, like this was the time big games were supposed to be played.
The Technology X-Factor
For late road games and those who watch on television, these games can really mess with your night schedule, especially if you have children. Thankfully, because it's 2015 and people are getting paid to find ways to make life better, virtually every game can be streamed on a device, completely portable and versatile. The living room is no longer the only place to watch the game. You can bring it to bed with you, use it to coerce your child into going to bed before it's over by being able to take the game with them, or whatever other scenario life throws at you. It's all flexible and the night games may be the biggest beneficiary of this improvement.
Why Late Kickoffs Aren't Always Good
For those who are going to the game, more often than not it's easier to clear a schedule to fit in a night game, but that's where the benefits stop. There's no way you can even get out of the parking lot by at least 11:45 if you stay until the end of the game, so unless you live really close, you're not getting home until after midnight, at the earliest. For some of the older Dawgs, and those with younger Dawgs, that's really tough on you and your schedule. Sure, you'll still do it and have fun, but come Sunday or Monday, you'll feel the pain (or your kids will be cranky) and the prospect of sitting through the games like this upcoming one that aren't premier showdowns becomes less and less appealing. People are always going to leave early, but making time that reason for someone that otherwise wouldn't isn't great.
For those who watch at home, it gets tougher and tougher to stay up when things aren't going well, especially as it gets later and later. Those nights where nothing is clicking and touchdowns seem like impossible, mythical ideas that only exist for the opponent are the roughest, most trying of times for the most dedicated of fans. And when it's the fourth night game of the year and the two previous Saturday night ones ended so awfully, well, it can easily sour you on the idea of another one. All those eyeballs we talked about in the first part aren't so real when they're really someone who fell asleep on the couch with the game on because it's past midnight (a real possibility for any Rich Rod coached Arizona team) and they usually go to sleep at 10:30. This doesn't even consider those East Coast Dawgs who are debating if this is all really worth it at 2 am, which is completely normal.
Coach Rodriguez brought this up in his rant, but it's worth repeating that these are "student-athletes" who are expected to be a full-time student while playing, and practicing for, a very violent, intense weekly football game. If you're at home, by the time you go through all the post game treatment and decompressing it's already 1 in the morning, if you're lucky, but you're so full of adrenaline and excitement there's no way you're going to fall asleep right when you walk through the door. If you're the road team, you go through that process but instead of heading back to your dorm to watch Netflix and fall asleep, you head to an airport and fly back to another airport to head back to campus. Traveling a long process that's tiring in and of itself, but it's added on top of a football game, making it much worse, and in years like this where there's only 13 weeks to play 12 games, it just seems ridiculous to ask that out of the players multiple times a year.
Too Many Late Kickoffs Devalues Them
The exclusivity principle (I have no idea if it's called that, but it sounds official, so lets go with it) tells us that the more common something good happens, the less exclusive it is, which lowers the value of it. Some of us learned this the fun way, where a one a year trip to an amusement park seemed like the best weekend of our short lives, and some of us learned this the hard way, when we found out that the sixth Frosty just doesn't taste as good as the first five did. College football schedule makers should try and make these night games a much more rare occurrence to capitalize on how unique they can feel to keep their value strong, instead of just rolling out night game after night game and wondering why people aren't as excited for the fourth, fifth, and sixth as they were for the first and second.