Morning football could be coming to the West Coast, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott acknowledged Wednesday when he revealed the conference has had preliminary discussions about scheduling games to kick off at 9 a.m. PT.
"That would be new and out of the box for our conference, but I've tried to put everything on the table," Scott said to a group of reporters. "There's a lot of frustration from fans in certain markets to the late-night kicks. I'd like to see one or two games this season that are 12 noon (ET) kicks be Pac-12 games and see what markets might respond positively to that."
It's tough to forecast how realistic it is that the idea will become a reality because the plan has not been properly vetted and Scott has yet to discuss it in detail with the league's athletic directors. If the conference does move forward with the earlier kickoffs, it would be completely voluntary, according to Andrew Walker, the Pac-12's vice president for public affairs. Both UCLA coach Chip Kelly and Cal coach Justin Wilcox expressed a willingness to serve as guinea pigs.
"It might differ between the fan bases because some might say, 'No way,' and some might say, 'That's no different than an 8 p.m. game,'" Wilcox said. "Our guys practice in the morning. Wake up, eat, let's go play the game."
Wilcox said he sees a major benefit to playing an early game on the road because it would allow the players to keep a more regular sleep schedule. They would need to get up earlier than usual on game day, but he likes the idea that they could get home by 5 p.m. or so, and get to bed at a reasonable hour compared to the late kickoffs that often result in teams arriving home around 3 a.m.
"I'd kick off at 6 a.m.," Kelly said. "When you wake up -- if you're a college football player or coach, you want to wake up and you want to play football.
"The hardest thing with Saturdays is when you wake up and then you've got to wait until 7 at night. But we're also big on we don't control our schedule and when we kick off. So tell us where it is and when we're kicking off, and we'll be there."
Scott cited frustration with the late kickoffs as the primary reason to explore possible solutions, but the conference could also potentially benefit from a different form of national exposure. Early games mean, in addition to the new broadcast window, that those highlights will be circulating the rest of the day Saturday, whereas now -- with the conference playing mostly afternoon and evening games -- most of the country doesn't have the opportunity to digest much of what happens on the West Coast before the NFL dominates the following day.
For schools outside major population centers such as Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State, where large percentages of the fans drive from hours away and there is limited hotel space locally, the idea could be more logistically challenging. And there will surely be pushback from fans, particularly those fond of tailgating, who simply don't want to wake up that early to attend a game.
"It's the fan experience for game days [that would need to be taken into account], but there might not be much trade-off in some instances because some people can't do the late games, either," Wilcox said. "I would have to ask our people, but sure, let's do it. Roll it out there."