USC before breakfast: You better get used to it

The Trojans got a taste of an early morning kickoff this weekend.

USC faced off with Colorado at the bright and early time of 9 a.m. (Bryce Dechert / Daily Trojan)

I am not a morning person. Never have been, never will be.

But, as a beat writer for USC football, I woke up at 5:40 a.m. — before the sun even came up — to cover USC’s 48-41 win over the Colorado Buffaloes because that is part of my job. Even before I began covering the team, I would go to every USC game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that I could and watch every other game on television.

So, I was fine with having my eyes burn for the first couple hours of Saturday because I enjoy watching and covering the Trojans.

But what about the average fan? The fan who might, understandably, leave at halftime of a game USC is winning 49-3. The fan who might have ESPN updates on for an away game, but would instead do something else than try to figure out how to work the Pac-12 Network streaming service.

Or the fan, which will be made more and more prevalent with USC’s impending move to the Big Ten, who does not want to wake up earlier than they have to on a Saturday to watch a 9 a.m. kickoff.

Although USC won’t have a marquee matchup every week when it moves to the Big Ten, and will therefore get slotted into that ‘Big Noon’ Saturday slot like it was this past weekend, those 9 a.m. kickoffs will only increase.

This past weekend alone, two games featuring Big Ten teams kicked off before noon on the West Coast and an additional four games started before 1 p.m., leaving the Michigan State-Iowa matchup as the only Big Ten game to start past those windows.

While these time slots will likely not affect USC’s home games, all of its away games that are not against UCLA, Oregon or Washington will take place in the Central or Eastern time zones, two or three hours ahead of the West Coast.

The Big Ten simply cannot schedule many games to start at 7:30 p.m. EST, or all of those games might finish at 11:00 p.m. or later in the time zone the game takes place. But this leaves the four new members of the Big Ten as of Aug. 2024 — USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — to play in early time slots — early for the West Coast at least — when those teams are on the road.

These scheduled times do not necessarily affect how the team plays; at least that’s what redshirt senior safety Bryson Shaw said when talking about the conditions of an early kickoff and playing at high altitude this past weekend.

“We’ve been practicing [at] five in the morning, six in the morning during camp,” Shaw said. “We were ready to play this game.”

But these schedule times will affect how fans experience away games, even if it does not affect the team. If the Big Ten schedulers had any common sense, they would avoid scheduling so many early kickoffs for the West Coast schools in the conference. But as this weekend showed, those early games are bound to happen at some point.

If I were not the person I am, I would be dissuaded from waking up that early to watch USC football if the games were consistently too early. Or, at the very least, it would be a barrier for me or anyone to invite people to watch the game with, in effect decreasing the viewership of Trojan football. Even games starting at 1:30 p.m. PST pose issues for hosting, as anyone who has tried to get college students to do anything in the early afternoon on a Saturday might know.

Now the Big Ten has to deal with three time zones when setting game times, which is not an enviable position as there will always be someone upset with the kickoff time.

Even now, my dad, who watches USC football in Atlanta, has to go to bed by halftime for 7:30 p.m. PST kickoffs, a time slot USC has played in twice already this season with at least one more on the schedule. He’s not happy he can only watch half of the game. But for me, I enjoy those 7:30 p.m. kickoffs because I’m able to have the whole day for whatever I need to do, then I get to end it with football.

So there’s no way to make everyone happy when it comes to scheduling games.

But if the Big Ten wants to have USC fans, or any West Coast school for that matter, to watch games featuring the teams they root for, it cannot schedule anything earlier than a 1:30 p.m. PST game more than once a season, and it should avoid scheduling any games like that if at all possible.

This issue also falls back onto the schools themselves, though. The Trojans, at least under Pac-12 policy, have to approve any game that is scheduled to start before 11 a.m. local time, which USC had to do this past weekend as its matchup against Colorado kicked off at 10 a.m. MST.

The Big Ten might not have a policy like this, but the conference might and should introduce such a policy when it adds four new schools from the West Coast.

Especially in the age of name, image and likeness, a great way for a team to get better is to make donors want to support your team. The only way to do that? Make it so your fan base, a fan base primarily located on the West Coast, does not have to set an alarm specifically just to watch your games.

So to Big Ten schedulers and USC football, from someone who will watch Trojan football no matter what, please make it so others want to do the same by scheduling kickoff times which will not make me wince on the regular.

Thomas Johnson is a junior writing about USC’s move to a new conference and all of the implications surrounding the transition in his column, “Big Ten Bites,” which runs every other Monday.

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.