About this time of year, a lot of people start anticipating the college football season, and I’m right there with them. But in the case of Washington State fans, they’re not sure exactly when it is that they’re anticipating.
If that’s confusing, so is the fact that, as we near mid-July, there is still no starting time assigned to the WSU-Auburn opener Aug. 31, and I can’t recall that kind of uncertainty around an opening game. We’ve all grown accustomed to the inconvenience of six- and 12-day TV windows later in the season, causing all sorts of frown wrinkles for fans, but other than the umbrella explanation that it’s because of television, I don’t get why the delay on this one. What are we going to know at the time of the announcement that we didn’t know weeks ago?
The WSU-Auburn game is the only one on the opening two weekends of Pac-12 games without a starting time.
This one is in the hands of the Southeastern Conference. Chuck Dunlap, spokesman for the SEC, says it’s customary for that league to announce its TV assignments and starting times for the first three weeks of the season at its media-days gathering, and that begins Tuesday. (Why a league with the cachet and story lines of the SEC needs to add that suspense to its media days is itself a good question.)
Dunlap says the likelihood is that the Cougars-Tigers game gets a late-afternoon-or-night slot, simply because there are more of them. The SEC has an 11:21 a.m. Central-time slot, which is always a possibility, but the bulk of the available slots are the late-afternoon or night variety. (An 11:21 Central slot would be 9:21 a.m. Pacific time, and probably not the optimum for WSU.)
“It’s ESPN’s working calendar,” Dunlap said by way of explanation for the lapse, adding that with some late jockeying of the Thanksgiving-weekend games involving SEC teams, “the schedule was just really finalized six weeks ago.”
He points out that if WSU fans, for instance, are planning to travel to the game, they wouldn’t be dissuaded from doing that by the absence of a starting time today.
That’s true. But I can think of a number of ways it could impact WSU and its fans. Let’s say Mike Leach is torn philosophically on a Thursday or Friday departure, depending on the starting time, morning or night. Should the Cougars have to wait until mid-July to be setting up charter and hotel accommodations?
There are also implications for fans. Here’s just one: The Atlanta Braves play at home Friday and Saturday nights, Aug. 30-31, and Atlanta, two hours from Auburn, is an obvious air destination for football games there. If you’re trying to catch a game in Atlanta — or you’ve got some other plans that weekend around the game — wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make them?
Or, if you’re interested in a quick return to Seattle after the game, might it not be helpful to know when that is? Obviously, the SEC’s TV partners don’t care a lot about the uncertainty, nor does the SEC.