Rooney: Early football kickoffs could be thing of beauty in Boulder

Pac-12 considering early starts to boost national profile

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU quarterback Steven Montez tries to escape Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike during their game at Folsom Field in 2017.

Picture daybreak on a warm autumn morn. The red veil of the sun begins peeking over the eastern horizon, and before long it’s reflecting brilliantly off the Flatirons looming over Folsom Field.

Against this backdrop, bleary-eyed Buffs fans soon start filling the parking lots, the tailgate grillers perhaps trading burgers and brats for bacon and eggs. Football kickoffs at 10 a.m.? It might happen sooner than CU fans think.

In an idea first offered publicly by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News months ago, Pac-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott revealed to reporters this past week at the Pac-12 football media day that league officials indeed are examining the feasibility of 9 a.m. PT kickoffs.

From this corner, adding one 10 a.m. kickoff at Folsom, preferably early in the season, feels like a good idea.

First and foremost, if adding flexibility to the front end of Game Day means fewer home kickoffs as late as 9 p.m., that alone would make the experiment worthwhile. Games that end past midnight locally and in the middle of the night along the east coast not only reduces the appeal of the product, but it severely limits the number of eyeballs nationally that can be trained upon said product.

Sometimes east coast bias is a real thing when it comes to national profiles and awards. Other times it’s a convenient excuse for fans to use in backing their favorite players. But regardless, if Laviska Shenault is doing the bulk of his damage when it’s well past midnight in New York, it’s difficult to fault the average college football fan for tuning out.

A few 10 a.m. MT kickoffs would change that. With the Pac-12 lagging behind its Power 5 rivals in football and men’s basketball, any alteration that can potentially expand national exposure, no matter how unorthodox, should be explored. The early kickoffs would allow the Pac-12 to go toe-to-toe with the other Power 5 conferences in the coveted noon ET time slot on ESPN and FOX.

Would the fan experience be all that different? Would it be any worse at Folsom than 9 p.m. kickoffs? Kicking off at 10 a.m. isn’t entirely unprecedented at Folsom. Per CU associate athletic director of sports information Dave Plati, two somewhat recent home showdowns against Nebraska on the Friday after Thanksgiving kicked off bright and early, with the 2007 game starting at 10:09 and the 2003 game kicking off at 10:11. (Also according to Plati, that 2003 game owns the distinction of the earliest finish to a CU football game in team history — 1:35 p.m.)

Certainly an early-season date would be easier to execute. While the weather in Colorado probably can’t be trusted any time after the calendar turns from summer to autumn in September, the allure of a beautiful fall morning watching football in Boulder would be a strong one, while whatever initial charm that might strike with a November morning snow game probably would wear off quickly.

Furthermore, another late-night kickoff won’t expand CU’s profile in the west coast recruiting hotbeds any more than it already is. New head coach Mel Tucker has expressed a desire to recruit nationally, including territory in the southeast where traditionally it has been difficult for CU to steal recruits yet remains familiar to Tucker from his previous stints at Georgia and Alabama. Those recruits aren’t staying up until 2 a.m. ET to catch the end of the CU-Washington State game.

The Pac-12 still has work to do to show the rest of the college football world it has a product worth watching. Yet adding a few 10 a.m. MT kickoffs to the docket would at least give the league a fighting chance against its Power 5 rivals in the race for the sport’s brightest spotlight.