By John Marshall
AP College Football Writer
Oregon coach Chip Kelly liked the idea of moving the start of his team’s game against Stanford up three hours because fans in Eugene didn’t have to wait all day to see the game, then face a drive home late at night.
Other than that, Kelly could have cared less; he’ll play anytime.
“I have absolutely no say in the scheduling,” he said. “If you want to play at 3 a.m., I’ll play at 3 a.m. I don’t care.”
The Pac-10′s new leadership had a different perspective. They were thrilled with the time change because of the exposure it gave the conference.
Had the game gone off at its original time of 8:15 p.m. it would have started after some East Coasters were already in bed and ended well after last call.
By moving kickoff up to 5:15 p.m., No. 9 Stanford at No. 4 Oregon became a prime-time showcase — one not involving those Trojans — that served as the capper to a day filled with premier games.
“A year ago when I started in this role, I was told by a lot of people that nationally people see USC and don’t see the depth of the conference after that,” Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said.
“To have a year later, Stanford and Oregon be the game that has the most interest in a week with the Red River Rivalry, Florida-Alabama and other important games makes a big statement of where the Pac-10 is at, how it’s seen and the fact that we have two potential national contenders playing.”
The late-night game has been an issue for the Pac-10 for years.
The benefit of playing after dark is the lack of competition for TV viewers; Saturdays are full of clutter and there aren’t as many options for people to switch off to at night in the West.
The downside is that some viewers on the East Coast might not be willing to stay up into the wee hours to watch a college football game. That hurts the TV ratings and the Pac-10′s recognition in the East, which could be damaging in poll and award voting.
So as the conference heads into a new era, transforming into the Pac-12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, its leaders are looking into ways of getting its marquee games in front of bigger audiences.
The Pac-10′s TV deals expire at the end of the current school year and the starting times for football games are sure to be part of the conversation.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into making sure we’re visible nationally for our biggest games, but it’s something that’s a high priority, something that we’re spending a lot of time on and something that will receive a very high priority as we’re looking at our future broadcast agreements,” Scott said.
The Pac-10 has already had its share of big games on the late-night slate this season.
On Sept 18, a matchup between No. 9 Iowa and No. 24 Arizona, one of the biggest games in the Wildcats’ recent history, started at 7:30 local time. UCLA’s upset win over No. 23 Houston started at the same time and the Wake Forest-Stanford game was even later, kicking off at 8:15.
Arizona, looking to cement its status among the nation’s elite programs, played another late game against Cal the next week, the same time as an entertaining shootout between Oregon and Arizona State.
Stanford-Oregon was on the late-night list, too, until ABC and ESPN asked if it could be moved up.
For the Pac-10, it was a no-brainer. Its long-standing dilemma has been fighting eastern perception that the conference is USC and a bunch of teams nobody cares about.
This game was a rare chance to show that’s no longer the case.
“The Pac-10 is arguably among the top two conferences in terms of our stature and the performance of our teams and I want to make sure voters across the country are seeing the best of the Pac-10,” Scott said. “That’s one of the reasons we allowed Stanford and Oregon to be moved earlier.”
Now it’s time to see if it’s feasible to have more big games played earlier.
It might be tough at the two Arizona schools, at least for the first two months of the season. Temperatures reach into the 90s even for night games in September and October; the temperature at kickoff at Oregon-Arizona State was a blistering 100.
Other schools have more flexibility and appear willing to shift things around if it means more recognition for their programs and the conference.
“We’re a conference that I think has traditionally been seen as pretty conservative and rigid when it comes to when we’ll play, but I think that’s changing,” Scott said. “Not only is there new leadership in the conference office, but throughout the conference and a different mindset is evolving. I think you’ll see a fresh look at where we play.”