To this point, any discussion of the pros and cons of night games was largely limited to frustrated fans, a smattering of reporters (hello!) and a certain head coach in the top left corner of the country.
Oh, and a certain four-letter networks that didn’t take kindly to the certain head coach’s comments.
But now the issue has gone mainstream, courtesy of one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport.
“I understand TV contracts are kind of ruling, but when you start talking about student-athletes, they shouldn’t have to play four night games on the road,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday, according to The Blade.
“I talked to (Ohio State athletic director) Gene Smith about it and I’m going to bring it up to (Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany). We’ll find out if we really do care about getting home at four o’clock in the morning four times. You don’t do that.”
They do do that, but they shouldn’t.
When Washington coach Chris Petersen broached the issue last week, he focused on the negative impact night games have on the fan experience — either for those attending or watching.
When ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott responded to Petersen’s comments, they focused on the benefits the late broadcast windows had on exposure (i.e., viewership).
But Meyer raised the topic the Hotline has been screaming into the abyss about for years: The impact night games, especially night road games, have on the players.
* Seven night games in a 12-game season (Oregon State in ’14, Stanford in ’15, Cal in ’16) cannot do anything but add to the wear and tear.
* Four night road games, and returning to campus at 3 or 4 a.m. (Cal in ’16), cannot do anything but slow the body’s recovery clock.
* Three night road games in a four-week span — you read that right: three night road games in a four-week span (Washington State in ’16) — good thing Pullman is so close to every other campus — cannot be anything but detrimental.
Did we mention that training camp started in late July for many teams?
Or that the season will end in January for some?
*** Vital point: The coaches are getting rich … sorry, they are getting richer .. off the night games.
ESPN and Fox are paying more in rights fees for the ability to fill the night broadcast windows — it’s smart business on their part, because college football does better rating than anything else they could show — and richer media rights deals mean more revenue for the schools and more millions in the coaches’ pockets.
Which is why it’s difficult to generate sympathy for the coaches when they complain, unless they want to give the money back — or unless, like Meyer, the complaint is rooted in concerns about player welfare.
It’s not like the players are getting a cut of the TV windfall, but they’re asked to board a two-hour flight at 1 a.m. with a sprained knee and bruised ribs.
The TV contracts aren’t getting ripped up. The networks are paying for the night games and the schools aren’t about to return the cash.
(They have to pay the coaches, after all.)
The Power Fives present themselves as advocates of student-athlete welfare — the Pac-12 might be first in line on that front — but it’s difficult to square that position with schedules that call for repeated 4 a.m. arrivals on campus.
*** It will be interesting to see how ESPN responds to Meyer … if it responds to Meyer.
Let’s compare the comments:
Meyer: “I understand TV contracts are kind of ruling, but when you start talking about student-athletes, they shouldn’t have to play four night games on the road … In my opinion, very strong opinion, when I start thinking about players and what’s expected of them during the week, if you can’t recover, you don’t get those hours back. I’m talking about academically, I’m talking about just your body, and the student-athlete welfare. They should not play four night games on the road.”
Petersen: “We apologize for these late games. And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration. We want to play at 1 o’clock. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it.”
Essential difference: Meyer zeroed in on the welfare issue, whereas Petersen ventured into the realm of exposure.
That might give ESPN the cover it needs to avoid responding to Meyer because, obviously, it would never take on Meyer the way it took on Petersen.
Wonder which coach will be the next to sound off.
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