Media Notebook: 3-hour windows, weekday lunch football, and the rise of Thursdays

In the second part of our college football media roundtable, published a week ago, many of our panelists discussed the kinds of issues which remain a part of the annual landscape of this sport on television… but weren’t on the radar screen 25 years ago.

The shifts witnessed within the college football television industry — the ones which give the sport the national reach it enjoys today — were rooted in a 1984 court decision. However, they didn’t begin to blossom and emerge in their fullness for another decade, while college football — as a televised product — tried to sort itself out.

ESPN began to hit its stride — and gain power — as a college football broadcaster. The arrival of College GameDay as both the sport’s signature pregame show and as a traveling road show in 1993 (beginning with that year’s ballyhooed Florida State-Notre Dame game) boosted ESPN’s centrality in the college football broadcasting business.

Two years later, a Thursday night college football game drew over four million viewers on cable and ushered in what is commonplace today: weeknight college pigskin.

What Florida State and Virginia began in 1995 has developed into a rather pervasive — and increasing — presence in college football: Schools now race to claim weeknight slots so that they get a level of visibility they might otherwise fail to attain, buried in the massive Saturday slate.

In the college football roundtable linked to in the first paragraph of this piece, you’ll see that each panelist — in some way and to some degree — mentioned the need for the sport at large or a specific outlet (Fox Sports 1) to continue to explore new ways of getting the product to viewers. For TSS associate editor Bart Doan, the key is to move away from Thursdays, cede that spot to the NFL, and emphasize Friday nights, when Americans are done with their workweeks and crowd into bars to watch sports. For Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder and myself, Fox Sports 1 needs to stake out unclaimed territory in college football: Wednesday nights throughout the season (not just on MAC Wednesdays in November), late-night slots on opening weekend, early-morning games on Saturdays, the works.

Yes, all of this underscores how much college football is an entertainment product (as opposed to amateur athletics which serve academics — that antiquated notion was blown out of the water many years ago), but since athletic departments need to make money and conferences at the lower end of the food chain need to find ways to survive, it only makes sense for the carriers of the product to reach out to FS1 (and ESPN) and find ways to make college football even more available to a population which can’t get enough of it.

This is why the reach of weeknight college football is growing, and while some will say that Friday is the better night for the sport (a perfectly legitimate claim, by the way), the fact of the matter is that no day of the week is growing more than Thursday.


The 2015 schedule features 28 Thursday games… not counting the massive season-opening slate this Thursday, Sept. 3, or the Thanksgiving Day games Americans have come to expect. In 2010, that number of Thursday games (not including opening night or Thanksgiving) was 18. In 2005, it was 16.

What’s especially notable about this year’s Thursday slate in college football is that with the recent change in the World Series schedule, Thursdays are non-baseball days in late October. For a period of several years, continuing through 2013, the World Series started on a Wednesday, meaning that Games 2 and 7 would be on a Thursday. Last year, however, the Fall Classic began on a Tuesday, leaving Thursday as a travel day while concluding the series on Wednesday of the following week in the event of a Game 7.

College football networks have jumped at the opportunity to fill the gap on Thursdays, betting on sports fans wanting to embrace football even more fully once baseball begins to fade from view. On Thursday, Oct. 29 (the travel day between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series) and Thursday, Nov. 5 (the day after a World Series Game 7, if it gets that far), six college football games will be played. Four of them on each night will be nationally televised.

This is where college football has been heading — more weeknight games — and it points to the notion that the sport will be even more aggressive in seeking out new territory.

This leads us to the other items in our media notebook.


This Friday, if you just can’t resist the urge to satisfy your football fix — even though you know that you’re not going to be watching a showcase game — you can catch a weekday workday game in the afternoon. Yep — that’s right.

Those who study the college football broadcasting business more closely than I do can determine how historic this is, but if it’s not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare: On Friday — not a holiday — Charlotte makes its FBS debut (in Conference USA) versus Georgia State… at 3:30 Eastern time. That’s not a typo. ESPNU will carry a college football game during work hours for all time zones in the country. It might be a small thing, but from small things — one Thursday night game 20 years ago in Charlottesville, Va. — sprang a sea-change in terms of how we view the sport, and in terms of how certain programs — think of Louisville — used the Thursday night revolution to catapult to national prominence.

Don’t think the sport is going to move backward in this regard. It’s going to be Manifest Destiny in the coming years — expect more days and time slots to be pursued by networks wanting to make a mark, and by schools wanting to get on TV.


Our final note, generally removed from the above items (but perhaps not 100 percent), concerns a continuing issue with college football time-slotting.

In the attempt to cram games into a schedule while also making room for other contractual obligations with other sports (and the competing tension to keep studio shows or news programs on the air as much as possible), three-hour or three-hour-and-15-minute game windows persist.

This Thursday, be prepared: ESPN’s FBS season premiere of South Carolina versus North Carolina at 6 Eastern is — the schedule tells us — followed by TCU-Minnesota at 9 Eastern. A three-hour window for college football? Unless it’s a service-academy game, don’t expect that window to be adequate. You can pretty much take it to the bank that the TCU-Minnesota kickoff won’t be any earlier than 9:13 or so, and quite possibly not until 9:21. If Frogs-Gophers does start at 9:13 (meaning that South Carolina-North Carolina will be making good time), it will very likely start on ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, or some channel other than ESPN before the mothership joins the broadcast following the end of Gamecocks-Tar Heels.

Much as college basketball needs to adopt 2-hour, 20-minute game windows (at least as long as foul-and-free-throw parades and timeout festivals still occur in the final minutes of games), college football needs to move to a 3-hour, 45-minute game window. Baylor games need four hours these days.

We’ll see if this particular adjustment can be made on a wider level before the 2016 season.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |