As the sun sets on Saturday and spectators fill the seats at Martin Stadium in Pullman, the Washington State Cougars will do something they’ve yet to do this season.
They’ll play a college football game that begins at 7:30 p.m., their first scheduled kickoff this year of 6 p.m. or later.
That WSU didn’t draw a late-night game until late October has to make the rest of the Pac-12 a little envious.
Washington, for example, has to wait until 8 p.m. Saturday to host Arizona, and that will be the Huskies’ fifth kickoff time of 6 p.m. or later already this season.
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And Stanford, WSU’s opponent on Saturday, is in the middle of a stretch of five consecutive games that will start later than 7 p.m.
Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and Utah will play at least six games each this season that begin at 6 p.m. local time or later. USC will play at least five, UCLA and Oregon at least four, California at least three and Oregon State at least two.
(WSU fans are unlikely to feel any sympathy toward their Pac-12 counterparts, however. Despite the Cougars’ luck in drawing day games this season, their first seven games of 2014 began at 5 p.m. or later.)
This, for better or worse, is simply how it’s going to be in the Pac-12, which makes so much money from TV contracts with ESPN and Fox that it has little room to complain about the kickoff times scheduled by those networks.
And if the Pac-12 Network wants to televise every conference game with as little overlap as possible — which it does — then frequent night games are unavoidable.
The income generated by the league’s TV contracts is not insignificant — schools can pay coaches such as Washington’s Chris Petersen a lot more money because of it — so there exists a tangible, apparently acceptable trade-off.
That’s what Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told CBS Sports last week, anyway.
“ We have blockbuster TV deals that have been incredibly beneficial to our schools and student-athletes from a resource and exposure perspective,” Scott told CBS, in part, “and the trade-off is worth it."
Still, it’s not always fun. Late kickoffs put fans in a logistical bind, especially those who drive to games from hours away, have young children at home, or work early on Sundays. Each time a late kickoff is announced, a quick scan of Twitter might include several fans lamenting that they’ll probably have to give away their tickets.
“I don’t think anybody likes the late starts,” Petersen said. “The fans don’t like it, the coaches don’t like it. It is hard on the players. But it is what it is.”
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez renewed the conversation last week after it was announced that his team’s game at Husky Stadium on Saturday would kick off at 8 p.m.
“At some point the conference has to have the ability to step in and say ‘Hey, give this team one afternoon road game,’ ” Rodriguez said last week. “Maybe all the rest are at night, but give them one break so they can get home at a reasonable hour. It’s silly, it really is.”
He received no reprieve: the following Monday, Arizona’s Nov. 7 game at USC was scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Late games are especially difficult for the visiting team, because its players and coaches must board a charter flight home afterward. Petersen said the Huskies didn’t return from their game against Stanford until about 3 a.m. Sunday, which is somewhat problematic because they lift weights, have team meetings and then practice around 5 p.m. on Sundays before taking Monday off.
Petersen said he’ll adjust the Sunday schedule if a late Saturday game necessitates a late return home.
“It’s not like they’re coming in on four hours of sleep,” Petersen said. “But it does mess up your sleep cycle and all those type of things, and I think you’re kind of out of sorts for a day. You hope they can kind of get back on their schedule that next Monday and catch up.”
On game day, they wait, and Petersen says that might be the worst part. They wake up, conduct a walk-through, eat lunch, have another small walk-through, and otherwise hang out in the team hotel, watching other college football games, “just biding time,” Petersen said.
It’s an inconvenience, but one that every team must tolerate. And one that isn’t soon going away.
No Browning update
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning, who didn’t play last week against Stanford due to a shoulder injury, remains questionable to play Saturday against Arizona.
Publicly, anyway. Petersen likely has a clearer understanding of Browning’s status, but he’s not telling.
“We feel good about the QB situation,” Petersen said Thursday, “and away we go.”
Redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels made his first career start in Browning’s absence last week.
SATURDAY: Arizona (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) at UW (3-4, 1-3), 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM