Not high on noon: Why Georgia has so many early kickoffs

Jacob Eason walking off the field as Vanderbilt celebrates its win at Sanford Stadium last month. The game started at noon.

ATHENS – Georgia fans, players and everyone else who has to be there will get up early on Saturday, go through a truncated pregame, and trudge over to Sanford Stadium for a game that kicks off at noon.

Then they’ll do it again next week. Everyone’s used to it. In all, one-third of Georgia’s games this regular season will be noon kickoffs at home, including four out of the six home games.

Fans tend to dislike it, because mornings aren’t ideal for tailgates, and the atmosphere isn’t as electric. The team claims not to care, though history says noon games don’t help: Since 2012, Georgia is 3-3 in home noon games against SEC opponents or Georgia Tech, including a loss to Vanderbilt this year. The squeaker against Nicholls State this year also started at noon.

Georgia plays at noon a lot: This will be 11 home games at noon over the past three years, believed to be the most in the SEC. So why is that?

Greg McGarity, Georgia’s athletics director, says it comes down to what television, in conjunction with the SEC office, decide.

“There is no lobbying amongst A.D.’s,” McGarity said. “Once contracts were agreed upon in the beginning years ago, everyone understood the dynamics and rights of the rights holders.”

Every SEC team’s games have been on television since 2009, though that included pay-per-view. Between 2009-13 schools could pick one pay-per-view game per year, and name the game time for that game. Since then, it’s all been up to the television partners and the conference office. CBS gets the first choice most weeks for its 3:30 games, followed by the ESPN and SEC Network for night games.

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity. (JEFF SENTELL/AJC).

McGarity pointed out that this year’s two “premium” SEC games – Tennessee and Auburn – were at 3:30.

“I never get any complaints about a 3:30 time start. But we do have an equal amount of complaints for 7:30 games (as noon games), because of the fans that have to drive three and four hours home, we hear about how inconvenient that is for our fans that have to travel back home,” McGarity said. “So it’s one of these situations where 3:30 is perfect but we know we can’t be there (every time).”

When you look at the schedule – and Georgia’s record this year – it’s easy to see why the Bulldogs might be stuck with the noon games.

Georgia is unranked right now, so that doesn’t help. The first three opponents were Nicholls State, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. That doesn’t help either. But what about next week’s in-state rivalry game against Georgia Tech?

The problem there is the SEC’s television partners had the choice of three other games that all match SEC teams: Alabama-Auburn, Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Tennessee-Vanderbilt. CBS got first choice and obviously wanted the Iron Bowl. Then ESPN and the SEC Network got the next couple choices for 3:30 and 7 p.m. games. The SEC office and the SEC Network would rather feature games featuring two SEC teams, rather than one featuring an ACC team. And again, it doesn’t help that both teams will likely be unranked.

The weekly TV selection process is “probably more complex than most think,” according to SEC spokesman Herb Vincent.

“The conference and our television partners determine the TV schedule each week,” Vincent said. “Schools can express preference on game times for special occasions or special needs of a particular game, and efforts are made to accommodate those special needs (Homecoming as an example), but due to the many moving parts in the process, such as the number of TV windows that must be accommodated, the various networks in play, the CBS exclusive window, occasional CBS doubleheaders, the number of games on a particular weekend, etc., etc., even those requests cannot always be met.

“There are efforts made to create balance in game times, but all of those moving parts that I mentioned above can sometimes cause a school to have multiple appearances in a particular timeslot in a particular year.”

For Georgia fans who hate the noon kickoffs, relief may not be in sight: The 2017 home schedule includes Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Barring some unexpected strong seasons from that group, Georgia fans may have to find a way to embrace the noon kickoffs. Or just hope their team is so good next year that the opponent doesn’t end up mattering.

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