Ed Note: The following article appears courtesy Bloguin's national college football site Crystal Ball Run.
Hardcore college football junkies have no problem staying up late to watch as much west coast college football as possible in the fall, but the Pac 12 wants to make sure more fans are getting a chance to watch their games at a decent hour.
According to a report by San Jose Mercury Times, Pac 12 officials are in discussions with television partners from ESPN and FOX with hopes of cutting down on the number of night games the conference will play moving forward. The discussions echo the concerns many fans of the Pac 12 members have voiced about too many games being played at difficult times, which leads to a lack of exposure on television and makes it difficult for some fans to attend the games. The complaints about the primetime scheduling also came from school administrators and athletics officials, so this is about more than making the fans happy. It's about keeping the Pac 12 schools happy.
The current deal in place for the Pac 12 with ESPN and FOX is a 12-year contract that was agreed to in 2011, just before officially expanding to 12 members (but with that expansion plan already in motion, thus not requiring renegotiating following official expansion). This means the Pac 12 is not looking to get out of the contract, but with so many years locked in under the agreement it is important to find any way to make the membership happy now instead of letting issues linger in an always potentially unstable realignment scene. No Pac 12 schools would be likely to leave the conference, but keeping the membership is the top priority for Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott. See how things have played out in the Big 12 as evidence why this is important.
What is somewhat ironic in all of this is when the mega media rights deal was signed it was deemed a wild success for the Pac 12 because it would help to expand the television presence of the conference, even if it meant owning a late night time slot. Thursday and Saturday night games were supposed to be the future of the conference. ESPN had four Thursday night games and four Friday night games and FOX added a handful of games to their FOX Sports 1 line-up.
And here continues a little problem.
Rather than place some high profile games on the regular FOX network, one of the big four major networks, the company paced games on FOX Sports 1, the brand new sports network that has been slow to cut a slice in to the ESPN pie. Despite having some high profile Pac 12 games to choose from for placing on FOX for Saturday night football coverage in the network's game of the week, FOX opted numerous time to go with a Big 12 match-up or another sports programming commitment. The other scheduling conflict comes from the baseball playoff coverage on FOX. Instead of airing Stanford-UCLA, FOX had baseball playoffs. Baylor's game against Kansas State was placed on FOX while Oregon vs. Washington was placed on FOX Sports 1 with the top broadcast team.
One of the other variables in the equation that has not been mentioned is the Pac 12 Networks. In addition to ESPN and FOX, the Pac 12's own broadcast outlet has had a number of primetime games as well. This is not quite the same issue for the conference though, as it is used primarily to air games that are likely to be passed on by ESPN and FOX, but the conference is also guilty of abusing primetime time slots.
Simply put, despite signing what was supposed to be a landmark media agreement with two of the biggest names in the game, the Pac 12 still played second fiddle to FOX's other partners and the conference is tired of being shelved to the back-end of Saturday programming line-ups. But this is the problem with sitting on the west coast, three hours behind the eastern time zone when the Big Ten, ACC and SEC can easily fill the first two time slots of the day and the Big 12 can get an early jump on the second and third time slots. How is the Pac 12 supposed to break in to the line-up?
Larry Scott is a smart man, and the Pac 12 has already benefited from having him in charge of the conference. I believe he will be able to work out some compromises with the Pac 12 broadcast partners, and he is the perfect man to do just that. Whether or not changes will be able to be made for the 2014 season may be up in the air, even though there is plenty of time to work some issues out.
Fear not, Pac 12 fans. Scott will find a way to ensure you get a good night's rest in the fall.