Who says that college hoops tipoffs need to start at 7:00 PM EST? For much of the country it makes sense but there is a segment of the college hoops world that would benefit from 5:00 tipoffs.
Traditionally, there have been a few blockers to the illustrious 5:00 tip: time zones, primetime TV coverage, student/fan experience, and the commute. We will tackle each one by one.
This is a non-starter for all conferences except for those predominately located in the Eastern time zone. Both for the viewing time frame of the local audience and the fact that the vast majority of their alumni base would be in those time zones. So, count out the rest of the country and lets focus on the East Coast.
The 5:00 timeslot is suboptimal for the big boy (P6 aka high major) conferences as there will be many more eyeballs on screen between 7:00-10:00 EST. However, the mid and low major conferences don’t get that many viewers in these timeslots anyways. In theory they could get better viewership by playing in the 5:00 timeslot as the only show in town rather than playing at 7:00 and competing against the ACC, B1G, SEC, Big 12, Pac 12, and Big East.
Consider mid-week MACtion in college football. The concept would be similar here but it would not as detrimental to the student and fan experience. (Though I admit it might be mildly detrimental – more on this below). In any case, it should be mid and low major conferences considering this move.
Additionally, part of the incentive to do this would be for a TV partner to provide the conference with more money for these games. The amount of money would not be obscene so it would really only be move the needle for low or potentially mid major programs.
There is no doubt that this poses a risk to the in-person student or fan experience. One of the things that makes college hoops (and football) great is the pageantry and passion brought mostly by the student section. Starting games at 5:00 would put it closer to classes for many and may make it more difficult for students and other fans to attend. However, many college campuses have classes that extend to 9:00 PM or even later. Students haven’t ever really been shy about skipping class for almost any reason or no reason at all. So, I think we are safe here. Though, I will concede somewhat on the next point.
There is no getting around the fact that a large contingent of the workforce in this country gets off around 5 PM and creates rush hour. Whether fans would be attempting to go home and watching on TV or going to watch in person they would essentially have to take off from work early to watch a game.
However, low and mid major conferences don’t get that much attendance anyhow. For example, the A10 and the MVC average about 4,900 and 4,000 fans per game respectively. The rest of the non-power conferences average much lower than that with a large contingent of the attendees coming from on or very near to campus.
Additionally, more and more Americans are working from home than ever before now. They do not have a commute to contend with and many could watch these games in the 5:00 timeslot even if they haven’t totally finished work for the day.
The fans who don’t fall into this bucket are the main casualty of this plan. However, this could be done on a limited basis. A couple of games per weekday in the 5:00 timeslot spread across Eastern mid and low majors would mean that a given school would only have a 5:00 game a few times per year at most.
5:00 Tips in Theory
Lets take a look at the A10 schedule for next week (Mon-Fri). The A10 is by far the best mid major conference, so the other conferences we’re talking about have even less favorable national TV coverage than this.
Seven games, four on ESPN+, one on CBSSN, and one on ESPN2. The one on ESPN2 (which averages the most viewership of these) is a 6:00 tip I might add. Moving some of those 7:00 and 9:00 tips to 5:00 would be awfully enticing to CBSSN or ESPN2.
All of the following conferences should be racing to be the first to fully implement this idea over the course of a season. They could carve out their niche just the way that MAC football carved out MACtion.
So, Who is This For?
Imagine, if you will, that you are either an alum/fan of an East Coast low or mid major, you’re a hoops junkie (and if you are reading this article you no doubt are), or you are a degenerate gambler. You live on the East Coast and you finish school/work at ~ 5 PM or work from home. Why wait two hours for basketball to start?
The conferences and schools get more money from the TV networks. The teams themselves get to play earlier in the evening and, more importantly, get back to their campus or hotel earlier and rest longer for the next game. Its a rare win-win-win.