This season's Michigan/Ohio State game has enormous implications. There's no reason to force West Coasters out of bed for it, though. (MGoBlog/Flickr)

Early morning start times for Michigan games must end

Ed. note: This is a guest column, pertinent because the most important game of the college football season is being played at an ungodly hour.

It’s not easy being a Michigan fan in California.

The 9 a.m. kickoff for college football games have become the bane of my existence — although, that wasn’t always the case.

Growing up in Michigan, as the crisp air and colorful leaves of autumn emerged, nothing beat Saturday mornings capped by noon game broadcasts. Noon games were the perfect midday diversion, a matinee of majesty. For three hours, homework and everything else could wait.

Then, around the mid-2000s, when I enrolled at the University of Michigan, things changed. The ritual of watching Michigan games on TV gave way to watching in person, at the stadium. Soon, I no longer embraced the noon kickoffs. Why?  Well, for one thing, arriving at the stadium by noontypically meant being at least a little sleep deprived. Like many students, my motto on Friday night wasn’t exactly “early to bed, early to rise.”

Fast forward to the present.  I’m now a “thirty-something,” and this is my first fall as a Michigan fan on the West Coast. Fandom, in many ways, is much easier today. Only a TV remote separates me from the “matinee of majesty.” I watch from my climate-controlled living room.  And waking up on time is no longer an issue, as the habits that led to my college era sleep deprivation are long gone.

Yet the noon kickoffs remain irksome. I dislike them even more now, particularly for marquee games. On Saturday, for example, Michigan (ranked No. 3 overall) plays rival Ohio State (No. 2). Admittedly, in recent years, Ohio has gotten the better of Michigan.  But given the heated rivalry, both teams’ national popularity, the teams’ rankings, and all that is at stake — including a trip to the Big Ten Championship game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoffs — this matchup could only have a later kickoff, right? 

Wrong.

The massively consequential battle between the Wolverines and Buckeyes will start at 9am. Most sports bars aren’t even open then. Also, many people will still be nursing their wounds and resting from the bedlam of Black Friday.

I get it. There are much more important things to worry about.  An early football game broadcast is the epitome of First World Problems. Also, traditionalists will argue that noon ET start times have always been a fixture in the Big Ten, and nothing should change. “Morning people” will say stop whining and get up early. Others will say just set the DVR.

There’s some validity to those arguments. But, to improve the game-day experience for attendees and viewers alike, I propose a simple solution: no marquee Big Ten matchups before 12:30 p.m.

Consider the benefits: For those in the Eastern and Central time zones, this means weekend errands completed before game time, with parents enjoying their kids’ weekend activities free of concern about missing the big game. For those in the West, this means watching marquee games at your favorite sports bar instead of your favorite breakfast spot. And for broadcasters, a 3:30 pm ET (or later) kickoff time for marquee games would likely encourage greater viewership (which means more advertising revenue).

Simply put, fan and business community interests rarely align as seamlessly as they do on this issue. So to the extent that it exercises control over game scheduling on Big Ten Network, ESPN, ABC, or other networks, the Big Ten should send a clear message: no more marquee football games at 9 a.m., please. (Or at least none that include Michigan.)

Stephen L. Ball is Government Affairs Counsel for CSAA Insurance Group. A proud Wolverine, Stephen has a B.A. in Political Science and a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Michigan. He also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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