Week 0 games are good, actually
TV has mostly made things worse for fans, but I'm struggling to see major drawbacks to Week Zero
Good morning! Thanks for your patience. Running a little late this weekend, as my oldest turned five this week, and is preparing to start Kindergarten. Where does time go, right? It seemed like just yesterday I was holding her for the first time in the hospital. Now I have to buy industrial crates of glue sticks and get quizzed on my knowledge of Disney Princesses.
We did have some fun over the weekend, watching college football together. She’s not quite old enough to really sit through an entire game with me, but she’s old enough to hang around, ask questions, and critique the team’s uniforms. That’s a start!
Let’s talk about those games, for a second.
I must conclude that Week 0 games are good
I written a fair amount about how I think the excesses of programming for television have made things worse for a lot of college football games. It’s given us bloated conferences, stretched out games thanks to commercial breaks, fewer big matchups on campus, and plenty of other ugly side effects.
But it hasn’t been all bad. ESPN is a major reason why we had two Week 0 games last weekend.
I feel like Saturday night gave viewers the full spectrum of the college football experience. The Florida-Miami game was objectively pretty ugly. The two teams were penalized a combined 23 times for over 200 total yards. Florida turned the ball over four times, and Miami was awfully lucky to just do it once. The final drive was a hilarious comedy of sacks and pass interference penalties. I think it’s fair to say we’re celebrating it partly because it’s August and the collective We just missed college football. Had this same game happened on October 1st, we’d called it Rutgers at Illinois and mock it mercilessly.
So it was ugly, but college football games are sometimes ugly, whether you play them in August or November. But that didn’t make it unenjoyable.
And then we had Arizona/Hawaii, which was full of batshit crazy offense and weirdness. This was a game where a QB throws four touchdowns, but also four picks, so he gets benched, and a defensive tackle makes a game saving tackle at the one yard line. It was super fun and super sloppy and I fell asleep on the couch during the third quarter because I live in central time and haven’t gotten my #afterdark sea legs yet.
Watch this, if you’ve somehow missed it.
One national columnist thinks these games are bad, because Florida/Miami was bad. But those teams got to open camp early, and had the same practice time as anybody else. I suspect the debacle had more to do with opening game jitters and a bad matchup (Florida and Miami project to have both strong defenses and iffy offensive lines, a perfect combination for an ugly game) rather than the calendar. If you play this game in week three, in similar weather, I think the result is pretty similar too.
People forget, Week 0 games aren’t new. We played one just about every year from 1983-2004, and many of those games were awesome. And because a gazillion people watched this game, we’ll probably find ways to broadcast more Week 0 games in the future. Technically, the process is supposed to require NCAA waivers, but I bet ESPN can find another reason to make it happen. In many ways, ESPN runs college football more than the NCAA does, after all.
I honestly think that’s great news! Coaches are split, but many seem to like playing a week early, so they can open camp a bit earlier and get an extra bye. Players haven’t complained (at least that I’ve seen). Fans love it, and if these games were played on campus, or at least in stadiums that aren’t likely to be 200 degrees, they’d probably love it even more. Everybody makes money.
Should we just start the whole dang season a week earlier? Nah. But two FCS games, one potentially meaningful game, and Hawaii, a week before everybody else? Sounds great to me.
Penn State is getting sued
I share this not because I think it’s the start of the downfall of James Franklin, but any time a major coach and program gets named in a lawsuit like this, I think it’s worth keeping an eye on.
A former team doctor for Penn State is suing the university and football Coach James Franklin, claiming Franklin pressured him about clearing injured players to return to the gridiron.
Dr. Scott A. Lynch claims in a lawsuit filed in Dauphin County Court that Franklin repeatedly tried to influence his decisions regarding whether hurt players were fit to play.
No specific instances of interference from Franklin were mentioned in the lawsuit, for what it’s worth, and current and former Penn State players have come to Franklin’s defense. Of course, that doesn’t mean that undue pressure did not occur.
TCU faced a somewhat similar lawsuit recently, and ended up settling, which is what my dumb, non-lawyer self would assume would happen here, before pretrial discovery gets too far advanced. Penn State is more heavily protected from FOIA than virtually any other public university, so internal communications are not at risk for being made public and potentially taken out of context like they might be at say, Iowa, or Texas, so perhaps officials on both sides of this lawsuit might have been a bit more glib than they might otherwise be.
No matter what happens with this lawsuit, this episode serves as another reminder for why schools ought to be proactive and take extra steps to make sure coaches can’t influence health related decisions, which, by virtue of the massive power they hold over players and other athletic department staffers, could be easy to do even on accident. We know that unscrupulous coaches have pressured players to play through injuries before (it’s part of why Tim Beckman got fired at Illinois), and even if a coach tries to play everything by the book, I can understand why a kid might get a different impression.
Best to keep the two as separate as possible, in my opinion, like Kansas recently decided to do. Regardless of what happens with this suit, perhaps others will follow suit.
Could we see major Pac-12 games at 9 AM next year?
Extra Points readers know that the Pac-12 won’t be playing at 9 AM local in 2019. But that doesn’t mean they won’t strongly consider it next year. In fact, they may very well end up putting some major matchups that early.
SBJ reporter John Ourand wrote in his newsletter on Monday night:
The most likely matchups next season could involve non-conference games that include Big Ten schools that already would have been established in that window this season. Washington hosts Michigan in Week 1 in 2020, while Oregon hosts Ohio State in Week 2. I would expect Fox to push for one of those matchups to be the Pac-12’s first 9:00am local time kickoff.
From a broadcasting perspective, I get the logic behind wanting to play a few west coast games at 9 or 10 AM. There are just more eyeballs out there for the noon EST timeslot, which gets your games in front of a bigger national audience. For programs with more limited national appeal, like a Cal, or Utah, or Colorado, or heck, at least half the league…playing a game at noon EST almost certainly means more folks will watch you than if you played at say, 9:30 EST.
But Ohio State at Oregon isn’t some middling Pac-12 matchup, that’s probably the biggest game of that entire week. There are a gazillion Ohio State (or Michigan) fans, and that game is going to get a ton of exposure whether you play it at 9 AM, 9 at night, or 3 AM. But playing it so early, locally, undermines the home field advantage for the Pac-12 team. And think of what a slap in the fact that would be to somebody who holds season tickets? Sorry, the game of the year is now at 9 AM? Guess you better drive to Eugene from the Portland suburbs at like, 4 AM?
That sucks. Of course, that doesn’t mean the league won’t do it. The Pac-12 has done lots of things that suck before. But here’s hoping somebody talks them, or Fox, out of something so drastic. If you need to play an early game, start with a mountain time zone team, or with somebody who really needs the TV exposure. Don’t make it harder for your league to score a massive, out of conference win.
Lord knows the Pac-12 needs all the help it can get to change the narrative. And that’ll come with wins on the field, not praises of their innovation in the trade press.
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