Did anyone watching Louisville-Pitt this week? ESPN2 showed the game nationally and it started at 11 AM Eastern. This makes a lot of sense for ESPN. It provides live football action opposite GameDay and allows for staggered starts across all their networks. Just like the Friday night timeslots, the 11 AM is becoming more popular with teams as it allows for national exposure and more money. The success of the broadcast means ESPN is just going to add more and more games on ESPN 2 at 11. In fact, I predict ESPN will have a full season of 11 AM Saturday kickoffs within the next three years. But the 11 AM poses a unique scheduling challenge. Realisticly the only teams that can really start that early must be in the Eastern Time Zone. That means some MAC, some Big Ten, some SEC, some Big East and all the ACC. Now the Big Ten and SEC will probably avoid the 11 AMers in the near future. Aside from the Central Time Zone challenges facing half their teams, both have more desirable time slots either on their own network or on ESPN's family of networks. The MAC will do it (just look at their embrace of Wednesday games) but they don't provide the cache that ESPN wants. The Big East is ESPN's logical partner for the 11 AM games, but there is a problem. First the expanded Big East is going to have many teams outside the East. Second, there is still a very good chance the the Big East might sign a TV deal with another network.
Where do you think ESPN will turn if the Big East is gone and none of their other premium partners agree to start their games that early? The ACC will get the first pitch from Bristol. Pitt and Syracuse are willing participants now. Don't you think they will be in the future. BC is contractually obligated to play on Friday nights in the new TV deal. It is not a stretch to think we will also agree to an 11 AM start if it meant national TV. ESPN3 has been a great resource for fans, but public perception and among recruits, it still feels like minor leagues. Having a game on ESPN 2 nationally -- even with an odd start -- is preferred by coaches and TV execs.
I am o nboard for the early starts but I watch most games on TV and I am rarely in Boston for a tailgate. I hope if ESPN comes calling for ACC Guinea Pigs BC leverages the opportunity to try new things. Maybe have a shortened pregame tailgate for extended post game tailgating. That might fill the stands. But BC should view it as a promotional opportunity because it is not going away.