Monday, October 15, 2012

Early kickoff times and the SEC

When you've been on the west coast for four days, then come to the east coast, stay at your parents' for a few days while watching Yankee games go far too long into the evening for a week, then drive a few hours back to your house for the 1st time in several days...your sleep patterns get totally messed up.

Hence, I'm writing at 2am ET.  Let's see how this goes.

I spotted a back & forth between an ESPN PR employee and Clay Travis, who runs Outkick The Coverage.  I don't have Clay as one of the people I follow on Twitter.  I have ESPN PR because they often tweet out game times for both college football and men's college basketball.  Its the crux of my site, so that's the decision that I made.

Anyways, Clay wrote an article and wasn't happy that his first trip to College Station for a game will be a pre-noon local time kickoff.  As I read the article, he seems to place the blame on ESPN "protecting" the Baylor-Texas game, which will be at 8pm on ABC.  I don't share his viewpoint at all, at least the opinion that Baylor-Texas is being "protected".

First, I don't believe that LSU-A&M should be the 12pm game.  When I did my late predictions this week, which were done before any games were played on Saturday, I felt the LSU-A&M game was going to be on CBS.  Someone in the know from an SEC school inferred to me that CBS wanted to do one home game each from the new members, Missouri & Texas A&M.  Missouri had a home game on CBS on 10/13 vs. Alabama (in part due to ESPN selecting South Carolina-LSU ahead of CBS thanks to concessions from CBS airing LSU-Alabama as a 2nd primetime game in '11), and A&M would not have another SEC home game until the Missouri game on 11/24.  Of the three available games, Alabama-Tennessee seemed like the lesser of the three games even though Alabama was likely going to be #1 after their game with Missouri.

Here's where things became messy with the six day pick.  Some blame lies with ESPN, some of this is a shared problem between the SEC and the networks:

1) ESPN committed specific games to specific time slots, but not a particular network - They did this with the Big 12, ACC and SEC games.  Did North Carolina-Duke, Georgia-Kentucky & Middle Tennessee-Mississippi St. need to be slotted for 7pm?  Could they have been available for 12pm?  Why wasn't Baylor-Texas available for 12pm, or Texas Tech-TCU available at 8pm, or why was Iowa St.-Oklahoma St. an option for all three time slots (12pm FX, 3:30pm & 8pm ABC), but not the other two games.  Why did Virginia Tech-Clemson have to air at 12pm?

I believe the time slot "locking" was part of the problem.  I don't know if the conferences/schools stipulated that a kickoff time decision had to be made on some of these games.  I did see that TCU, Kentucky & Mississippi St. have their games on 10/20 as homecoming, and much like the Big Ten schools could have requested a fixed kickoff time, or at least a limited range of times, instead of being open.

Then again, Oklahoma St. is having homecoming on 10/20 and were open about their kickoff time.  Different strokes for different folks maybe.

2) More people, at least nationally, are going to see LSU-Texas A&M regardless of when it kicks off compared to Baylor-Texas.  As Clay notes, Baylor-Texas is being split with Florida St.-Miami.  Of those four teams, FSU is the highest ranking team and I'd expect that game to be seen by the majority nationally.  The only place they'd be protecting anything is inside of Texas.  The rest of us probably are going to need ESPN3 or Gameplan if we even want to watch that one.

Heck, if anything, I'm surprised both weren't airing at the same time.  I've seen ESPN tout how well it does when it airs three Big Ten-SEC bowl games simultaneously over three networks on New Year's Day (Outback, Capital One, Gator).  I've seen ESPN PR toss their ratings numbers around when their great.  They'd love to let you know that some insane number of households in Texas were viewing either A&M or Texas AT THE SAME TIME across their networks!

3) Expansion has made things a cluster**** for SEC television scheduling - CBS didn't take more SEC games when A&M and Mizzou were added.  Neither did the FOX RSN package nor did Comcast/Charter's CSS, especially now that they know they won't have those games in a couple years once the SEC builds out their 24/7 network.  ESPN is stuck with a glut of SEC games, still has to fit in games from several other conferences on Saturdays, and they didn't increase the number of hours in the day nor find a way to fit games into smaller time slots.  The only thing they did was add the new late evening slots for the Pac-12 and last I checked, there aren't any SEC teams yet residing in the Mountain or Pacific time zones.

There are 99 SEC controlled games this year, up from 85 last year, not counting the conference championship.  CBS is taking the same 14 regular season games.  FOX & CSS took 15 games last year and are taking only 14 this year it appears.  There were nine PPV games last year.  There have been eight so far this year.  Let's say that there will be 12 this year.

Last year, ESPN had to spread 47 games across its cable networks plus the SEC Network syndication package.  This year that number should be 59 games.  That's 12 more games ESPN has to find a place for.  One of which they elected to use on their syndication package as part of a double header on 9/8 (WKU-Alabama).  Assuming that they won't do any split regional games as I've been told that the SEC asked that the package not have split regional games, 11 games will have to fit on the ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU schedule somewhere.  Roughly an extra game per week has to be placed somewhere, and because CBS has exclusivity in its 3:30pm and 8pm time slots, ESPN is limited as to where they can place those games.

I've heard from folks at SEC schools who have said that fitting in these extra games has been a headache for both ESPN and the schools.  Consider these items:

* The SEC minimum for games on ESPN & ESPN2 is 19.  They had 21 games on those two networks in all of 2011.  As of the 10/20 kickoffs, they'll already have 20 games on those networks with five more weeks of SEC games to slot into the schedule.

* Of those 21 last year, only two aired at 12pm (Utah St.-Auburn on 9/1, Texas A&M-Arkansas on 10/1), and A&M-Arkansas was due to the TV schedule shift when CBS does its primetime game.  We're now at three 12pm starts in '12 (Auburn-Mississippi St., Auburn-Arkansas, LSU-A&M) with a fourth likely coming on 11/3.  I suppose it kinda evens out when you add in that ESPNU had a pair of 12pm starts in 2011 and none have aired at that time in '12 yet, but I'd expect 1-2 12pm starts on ESPNU before the season's done.

So I don't think ESPN was out to protect Texas, though I do believe this game should have been a night game.  Feel free to leave a comment and tell me I'm off my rocker.

1 comment:

Morgan Wick said...

I'm sure Clay would claim that so many games were locked into their spots specifically to ensure the result he claims.

Has CBS re-upped with the SEC post-expansion yet? They were being recalcitrant because more teams didn't mean more games for them, but maybe it should have. Maybe an extra doubleheader week or two, or even a game or two a season on CBS Sports Network. I imagine LSU/Bama-gate would have complicated that though.