Washington State’s Leach on late kickoffs in Pac-12? ‘I honestly don’t care’
PULLMAN – More after-hours football awaits the Washington State Cougars this season.
It was announced Monday that the Cougars’ Oct. 21 home game game against Colorado will start at 7:45 p.m. – the fifth WSU game of the season set to kick off at 7:30 or later, but the latest of the batch so far. ESPN will carry the national broadcast.
The Cougars opened the season with back-to-back 7:30 p.m. games, at home versus Montana State and Boise State. Two afternoon games came after that, against Oregon State (2:30 p.m.) and Nevada (3 p.m.), but WSU followed with another dinner-time start against USC (7:30 p.m.). Then the Cougars snagged the 5 p.m. time slot for Saturday’s game against Oregon.
But it’s another dose of Pac-12 After Dark for the Cougars this week when they head to Berkeley Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kick against Cal.
Cougars coach Mike Leach isn’t opposed to the late starts as long as it isn’t too extreme – anything after 8 p.m. would qualify as extreme, the coach said Monday during a news conference. Leach also feels strongly about games that start at 10 a.m. or earlier. The Cougars haven’t had many of those, but they snuck in an 11 a.m. game against Idaho last season and played Portland State at the same time in 2015.
“Anyone that wants to play at 10 a.m. is out of their mind,” Leach said. “And anyone that wants to play after 8 is out of their mind.”
As for the 7:30 and 7:45 slots appearing on Pac-12 schedules regularly these days?
“I don’t care. I honestly don’t care,” Leach said. “I’ll play about what time they want.”
Washington’s Chris Petersen unintenionally caused some stir last week when he shared his thoughts about late kickoffs becoming a trend in the Pac-12. A hint: he could probably do without them.
The Huskies once again look like a team that could vie for one of the four coveted College Football Playoff spots toward the end of the season – they’re ranked fifth in the country at the moment – and even if means a prime spot on ESPN, playing after dark doesn’t do much good for their cause if CFP voters out East aren’t staying up to tune in.
Petersen also points out it can be a drag for the fanbase.
”We want to play at 1 p.m. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure,” he told local reporters. “No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it. We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this season. And so it’s painful for our team, it’s painful for our administration and we know certainly the most important part is for our fans.”
The rebuttal from ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is well-documented at this point. Herbstreit suggested Petersen “should be thanking ESPN” for the relationship between the Worlwide Leader and the Pac-12 Conference – one that allows teams on the West to get national exposure they wouldn’t have otherwise.
The Cougars have been on ESPN three times this season and FOX once. If folks on the East Coast are actually staying up past midnight to watch Pac-12 games, they’ve probably been impressed with No. 8 WSU, which is unbeaten through six games.
Leach says more of them are watching than you might think.
“The East coast stays up late. Heck, I’ve been to the East coast,” Leach said. “Bars don’t close on the East coast until 4 a.m. and that’s because they’re planning to stay up late. So they’ll probably stay up late.”
And the WSU coach is quick to denounce the supposed East Coast bias that many blame when Pac-12 teams, and players, don’t get their due credit.
“They whine about that all the time – East Coast bias,” Leach said. “Is there? I don’t know, there might be. I don’t think there’s any more East Coast bias than there is Los Angeles bias – compared to up here, which there clearly is. I think it’s related to media base. You’ve got a lot of newspapers, you’ve got a lot of viewers, you’ve got a lot of reporters there on the East Coast.”
But does that prevent a Heisman Trophy candidate – say, Cougars quarterback Luke Falk – from getting the attention he warrants? Leach, of course, has given that some thought as well.
“If someone is gonna be a Heisman voter,” he said. “They have a little bit of responsibility to do their homework. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote.”