One of Minnesota’s foremost politicians in recent years was Paul Wellstone, a United States Senator who would often find himself as the one dissenting vote on the Senate floor. Before his death in October of 2002, Wellstone was accompanied in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate delegation by Mark Dayton, now the governor of the state.
Very clearly, Dayton is fighting the kind of lonely and losing battle Wellstone knew quite well.
In a story which is ultimately humorous but has a point behind it, Dayton has said that he wants to get rid of the noon Eastern (or, more germane to this story, 11 a.m. Central time) kickoff for Minnesota games.
In a story by David Montgomery of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dayton said the following: “I’m going to propose that we pass a law that no (Division I FBS) football game in Minnesota can start before noon.”
Dayton explained that “If you want to tailgate, you have to be there by 9 a.m. Most students, I don’t think are awake at 9 a.m… (When) I grew up and went to Gopher games, they started at 1 or 1:30… and you knew that for the whole season, so you blocked out those days. Now, it’s about, ‘What time does TV want to put us on?’ It’s all driven by television and the dollars involved there.”
Awww, how cute — wanting to be able to properly tailgate and being worried about all those television dollars which are enabling Minnesota to build its program a little better.
The angle Dayton is taking on this is hopelessly romantic, so it’s a little endearing in that sense, but as a practical matter, this dog won’t hunt. Good luck getting a Minnesota-specific exemption for 11 a.m. Central kickoffs in the Big Ten, because the Big Ten has been the foremost example of a league which would rather play day games than night games or be more adventurous in slotting its broadcasts.
You don’t see the Big Ten play very often on Thursdays and Fridays. Big Ten Network likes to be able to have multiple regional offerings in the noon and 3:30 time slots, and on days when the 3:30 window is crowded with ABC/ESPN2 selections, BTN might have a game at 6 Eastern, which means that noon Eastern window has to be in place.
The ultimate solution for Minnesota as far as early kickoffs are concerned is simple: Become an elite program. If you’re a bigger, better program, you’ll get a lot more 3:30 Eastern (2:30 Central) kickoffs. Dayton should really be campaigning for the Golden Gophers to improve enough to become the best program in the Big Ten West.
With all of this having been said, Dayton’s misguided and quixotic approach still has a point behind it. No, he’s not going to succeed in banishing the noon Eastern kickoff from the Big Ten — Minnesota’s not going to get special treatment while everyone else has to play brunch football in the conference — but Dayton indirectly raises a question: Why does noon Eastern have to be such a uniform game window for the Big Ten?
When a bunch of games all start and end in the same window — think of a typical NFL Sunday, which sometimes has only two games in the late 4:05-4:25 window leading into the prime-time lineups for CBS and FOX — NFL RedZone becomes everyone’s best friend. However, if you don’t have RedZone, you’re forced to choose one network’s endgame over another’s. Much as it has always made sense for the NFL to start its Central time zone games at, say 2:30 Eastern (1:30 Central) to basically provide a third layer of daytime games each Sunday, it also makes sense for college football to stagger time slots a little more.
Instead of dumping stacks of games into the noon and 3:30 windows on a college football Saturday, why can’t the sport’s programmers carve out more time and space for a 1 p.m. or 1:30 Eastern time slot? Hypothetically, if there were four really great games in the noon Eastern window on a given Saturday, the use of a 1 p.m. window would — in the future — enable broadcasters to keep two of those four games at noon and slide the other two to 1 p.m., giving fans and journalists the ability to see more endgames and not be pulled in as many directions. The 3:30 window could, in response to this, be moved back to 4:30 on occasion — the networks could show flexibility, a point raised when, in September of the past season, weather pushed back the start of an SEC on CBS game (Georgia-South Carolina) to 5 p.m. Eastern. No one got hurt.
Mark Dayton is fighting a losing battle if he wants to pass a law abolishing 11 a.m. Central time kickoffs in the Big Ten. If he approached ESPN programmers about creative solutions regarding staggered start times in untraditional game windows, he might actually make some progress on this issue.