On Monday, the Pac-12 will announce kickoff times for Sept. 28. Only four games are scheduled, but at least two have division-shaping implications: USC at Washington and Washington State at Utah.
The start times and television networks will be determined, per usual, by a three-way draft featuring ESPN, Fox and the Pac-12 Networks.
Fortunately for fans interested in making tentative plans, we have obtained the selection order, which provides clues to the kickoff times.
It comes courtesy of Pac-12 associate commissioner for television Duane Lindberg, who spokes] at length with the Hotline recently about all things related to the conference’s football schedule — both the creation of the master schedule and the process of setting kickoff times during the season.
(Our conversation is available in full as a podcast at the bottom of this column.)
The draft order for Sept. 28:
No. 1 pick: Fox (likely FOX, 1 or 5 p.m.)No. 2 pick: Fox (likely FS1, night)No. 3: ESPN (likely 7:30)No. 4: Pac-12 Networks (flexible)
If we cross-match the games with the selection order, it’s reasonable to conclude USC-Washington will be a FOX broadcast (over-the-air) pick for the afternoon.
Unless something changes, Washington State-Utah makes sense as the No. 2 pick — both teams are ranked — and Lindberg believes the game would be an FS1 broadcast at night from Salt Lake City.
Would ESPN select UCLA-Arizona or Stanford-Oregon State with the No. 3 pick?
We expect UCLA-Arizona, because Oregon State isn’t a TV draw and Stanford lost its appeal last weekend (and Chip Kelly is Chip Kelly and the L.A. market is the L.A. market).
Let’s tentatively slot that game into the 7:30 p.m. window.
The Pac-12 Networks, with Stanford-OSU, likely would broadcast during the day.
(If ESPN selects Stanford-OSU, the Pac-12 Networks would show UCLA-Arizona at night.)
The selection order for Sept. 28 was one of numerous insights Lindberg, who works closely with programming executives at ESPN and Fox, shared on the podcast.
Here are a few others (and there is much more in our hour-long discussion):
*** Selection order.
Per the contract with Fox and ESPN, the Pac-12 Networks have the No. 1 pick in the weekly draft once each season, the No. 2 pick four times and the No. 3 pick five times.
(The weeks are determined by Fox and ESPN.)
This season, the No. 1 pick has been designated for Week Eight (Oct. 19) — the day of the Oregon-Washington game.
Except the Pac-12 Networks don’t really have the first pick.
*** The First Four.
Under the terms of their $3 billion, 12-year contract, ESPN and Fox are each entitled to two of what the conference calls First Four picks.
They’re allowed to take four games off the table prior to start of the season — the selections supersede the weekly draft.
Fox opted to use one of its First Four picks for Sept. 28, which explains why it has the first two draft positions (the First Four and the regular pick).
Fox is using its other First Four pick for Oct. 19, so Oregon-Washington likely won’t be available for the Pac-12 Networks. That week, the No. 1 pick is really the No. 2 selection.
The combination of the First Four picks and the Pac-12 Networks owning just one No. 1 pick in the weekly draft explains why the premium games are always on ESPN and Fox.
*** Caveats and policies.
Three noteworthy policies that govern the scheduling and selection process:
1. Homecoming games are protected from the 6-day selection option. They must be picked 12 days in advance to give the schools proper notice to plan festivities.
2. ESPN and Fox are prohibited from scheduling day games at Arizona or Arizona State in September, unless the schools agree.
(This was outlined on the Hotline in detail Wednesday)
However, there is no equivalent policy for night games in Boulder and Salt Lake City, where 8 p.m. (MT) kickoffs in November can be frigid.
There’s a Heat Policy but not a Cold Policy.
3. The first three weeks of the season are reserved for non-conference games.
Seems obvious, right? But it has ramifications for the conference schedule.
Cal and Washington have non-conference games on Week Four (Sept. 21): The Huskies visit BYU, while Cal has a date at Mississippi.
That created openings for both in Week Two.
In order to make the schedule fit for everyone and to avoid ultra-early open dates for the Huskies and Bears, they were matched in a conference game.
The process is similar with Stanford and USC: Because each team plays Notre Dame deeper in the season, they meet in Week Two.
Hope you enjoy the podcast with Lindberg.
Coming Friday: It’s not the night games on ESPN/FS1 or the limited reach of the Pac-12 Networks that’s the problem for the conference, it’s the combination.
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