Oct. 11, 2014: The first widespread use of #Pac12AfterDark occurs on Twitter in reference to USC’s upset of then-No. 10 Arizona, in a game that kicked off at 7:30 p.m. From that day forward, the hashtag has been used hundreds of thousands of times across Twitter. And like the term’s use in 140 character messages, it has also come to symbolize the conference’s push for later and later starting games. Thus far this season, six of seven of Stanford’s games are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. or later, like the Cardinal’s post-7 p.m. start at Utah this past weekend.
While game start time may seem insignificant, the ramifications of late kickoffs week after week can be immense. For one, games that begin at 11 p.m. EDT reach a far more regional audience. This can have negative effects on the Heisman and playoff races, a la Bryce Love… Fans who were sleeping at the most pivotal moments of match-ups likely wake up the next morning and check the box score and maybe watch ESPN’s two-minute highlight reel. But few would watch the entirety of the game the next day — the NFL owns Sundays after all.
From a profitability perspective, the Pac-12 tries to set as many late-night games as possible so as not to compete with conferences in different time zones that have earlier kick-offs. Because college football is decentralized to a certain extent, there is no league office scheduling one or two kickoff times like in the NFL. Lost is the allure of choosing which game to watch time run down in, a pivotal overtime drive or last-second field goal. Gained is a continuous slog of action from morning until well after dusk. But #Pac12AfterDark becomes much more problematic when the condition and sanity of student athletes are taken into consideration.
Student athletes on the away team are disadvantaged by returning from trips at ridiculous hours. Stanford and other schools usually do not pay for a team hotel the night that games conclude. As a result, games that end at 11 p.m. PDT, a weekly occurrence in the Pac-12, will often have students not returning to campus until 3 or 4 a.m. And college football is not nearly the worst offender in this category among collegiate athletics. College basketball and soccer games often require students to miss three or more days of school for road trips that occur multiple times each month. In a world where the NCAA imposes draconian restrictions on student athletes, like Rule 22.214.171.124, which prevents college athletes profiting from their collegiate athletic accomplishments (see this NY Times article for detailed explanation), it seems only logical that we require the NCAA and the Pac-12 conference to respect the thing that they insist prohibits college athletes from getting paid: that is, that student athletes are students first.
Stanford has three remaining football games this season, which are currently unscheduled. The University — if it really cares about its athletes’ academics more than on-field performance — should demand that those games kick off at reasonable hours. This must be in conjunction with a larger conversation about how to best minimize the potential adverse academic consequences that grueling D-1 college athletic schedules have on student athletes across all sports.
#Pac12AfterDark transformed the landscape of West Coast football. The conference this week has five teams in the Coaches Poll Top 25, many of which could contend for a national title this year. With the weakening SEC and rise in success of many Pac-12 schools, now is the time to showcase the league’s top talent at reasonable hours, while also respecting student athletes. Let’s make it #Pac12BeforeDusk.
Contact Michael Spelfogel at mspel ‘at’ stanford.edu.