Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has gone on record plenty describing some of the challenges in having so many 11 a.m. kickoffs.
In Riley’s world, everything revolves around recruiting. If a game is announced as an 11 a.m. start and the Sooners have already scheduled official visits with elite prospects from either coast — such as was the case of this year’s home game against Nebraska — it’s suddenly a major logistical challenge.
“It can be tough to get guys in,” Riley told SI Sooners last week at Big 12 Media Days.
In the case of the Sooners’ match with the Cornhuskers on Sept. 18, California running back Raleek Brown — an OU verbal commitment since February — was scheduled to attend for an official visit, but according to the 247 Sports database, he’s no longer confirmed for that date.
Also, 5-star defensive tackle Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, the top player in Florida, had originally scheduled his official visit to OU for Sept. 18, but now has changed that to Sept. 11.
Although it’s unknown if the 11 a.m. kick time for OU-Nebraska affected Brown and Brownlow-Dindy’s plans for an official visit, with high school games to play on Friday nights, it’s a major challenge if not impossible for some prospects to fly to Oklahoma City and get to Memorial Stadium before 11 a.m.
OU’s problem is that the 11 a.m. time slot has become a premier window for Big 12 Conference games on Fox Sports and ABC/ESPN. Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show leads into the network’s 11 a.m. broadcast, and to keep the most eyeballs on their programming, Fox has frequently leaned on OU games. So has ABC/ESPN.
OU has two kickoff times set for 2021 — and both are at 11 a.m. Last year the Sooners had five 11 a.m. kickoffs out of their 11 games. In 2019, OU had six 11 a.m. games, including a grueling stretch of five in a row. And in 2018, Oklahoma had five 11 a.m. kickoffs.
That’s 16 morning starts out of 39 total games in the span of three seasons, with more to come.
In Oklahoma’s case, it’s believed to be among myriad reasons (higher revenues, a reluctance by networks to begin renegotiating, a likely forthcoming expanded playoff and a rapidly changing college athletics landscape are some others) behind Wednesday’s news that OU and Texas are exploring a move to the Southeastern Conference.
When OU-Nebraska was announced as an 11 a.m. start back in May, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione issued a statement saying he was “bitterly disappointed” because he’d been planning a major celebration — a commemoration of the 1971 “Game of the Century” — for nearly a decade and wanted a Saturday night game would culminate a full weekend of celebratory activities.
Last week at Big 12 Media Days, commissioner Bob Bowlsby expressed very little sympathy when asked about Castiglione’s comments.
“He’s certainly entitled to that position,” Bowlsby said, “and he and I talked about it extensively before he made those comments.
“Having said that, we all signed the TV contract. We can change it the next time if we want to change it. But we're going to live by the stipulations of our television agreements and that's what we did on this occasion.”
For his part, Riley continues to try to mine whatever positives he can. The Sooners have won six straight Big 12 titles, and they’ve landed the league’s top-ranked recruiting class two of the last five years, according to 247 Sports.
“There’s things that can be good about it. There’s some things that you don’t like about it,” Riley said. “That’s the nature of it. Some years it happens to work out very good. Some years it doesn’t.
“The advantage to it is if you get guys in, then you have a full Saturday afternoon and evening to spend with them. You actually get a chance to spend more time with them if it does work out. It can work.”
Everybody has to play morning games. They're not ideal. Fans generally don't like having to get up so early to travel. Local merchants miss out on bigger revenue opportunities. For the football team, 11 a.m. starts are fine occasionally, but to do it as frequently as Oklahoma has, it can stress the body.
In terms of strictly recruiting, the Sooners haven't exactly lost a ton of chances. Of the 16 morning starts over the last three years, only four happened in Norman (OU also had one noon kickoff at home in that stretch). So over three seasons, only five games have become a logistical recruiting challenge.
But when big-time prospects have to alter their plans and reschedule official visits, coaches can get nervous about losing them to a rival school.
“The reality is that the game schedules right now are 11s,” Riley said. “It’s not our favorite in the world. It is what it is. We’ll have some night games at the back end to make up for it.
“Right now for us, it’s about tell us when and where. It is what it is. We’ll adjust with it, just like we’ve had to, and we’ll find a way to make it work.”