The Late, Late Show – Football games running long into the night
Those yawns you might have spotted on the faces of fans at Hooper Stadium on Friday nights most likely are not an indictment of the quality of action on the football field. They’re more likely due to the fact that in two of the last three weeks, Friday night football has nearly ended on Saturday morning at Nevada Union High School.
Last week’s matchup against Elk Grove, a 56-12 win, wound up at approximately 10:40 p.m., after the game kicked off at about 7:40 p.m. – 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. But in weeks one and two, the games got started – and ended – much later.
Two weeks ago, NU hosted Vintage High in a tripleheader night, as the freshmen were scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m., the junior varsity at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity at 7:30 p.m. But the varsity contest wasn’t kicked off until nearly 8:30 p.m.
“The first one, though, was even later. It was over an hour late,” NU athletic director Steve Pilcher said of the season-opening night, which included just two games – the junior varsity and varsity, which is the typical schedule for most Friday nights throughout California. “The varsity got started after 8:30 p.m. I’m not sure what happened that first week, but anytime you run a tripleheader, it’s going to complicate things.
“I noticed (in week two) fans started filing out in the fourth quarter.”
By the time that tripleheader with Vintage ended, fans who checked their wristwatches saw that they were heading home at approximately 11:30 p.m. And if Nevada Union fans felt they were getting home late, what about the Vintage faithful who still had a drive back to Napa ahead of them?
“On the way here were got stuck in traffic,” said Curt Slabaugh of Napa, who drove up along with his son Jeran, to watch his other son, Jordan, play for the Vintage junior varsity. “It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get here. On the way back it shouldn’t be too bad, though.
“I wouldn’t really be worried about it if I didn’t have to wake (Jeran) up for his baseball game tomorrow.”
If the Slabaughs were, indeed, able to make the trip home within the 1 1/2 hours they estimated, they would have reached Napa around 1 a.m. Saturday morning.
The Sac-Joaquin Section, which oversees high school sports sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley area, does not govern start time to regular-season games. SJS Assistant Commissioner John Williams said the section only ensures that its playoff game start as scheduled, which isn’t so difficult as the varsity teams are the only game in town on those nights.
But from what he’s seen, Williams said fans at NU aren’t necessarily alone. He said with the increasing emphasis of implementing a passing attack in offenses, the games have begun to run longer. With each incomplete pass, the game clock stops. Whereas after run plays that end in bounds, the clock continues to tick.
Though he’s seeing more late-night finishes, most are ending around 11 p.m. He said he would consider a game not ending until 11:30 p.m. to be very late.
“I would say the question that needs to be asked is if this is typical of the Metro Conference,” Williams said. “And if so, it’s a league issue that the powers that be in the Metro need to address.”
Metro Conference Commissioner Brad McIntire, athletic director at Yuba City, said the late finishes have not been a topic of discussion at league meetings – at least with fall sports.
“Typically we hear that with winter sports, not wanting to start games too late because of the travel problems you can have,” McIntire said. “It hasn’t been brought up in our meetings, but may be it will in our next one on Oct. 3.
“But being a Friday night, I don’t think it’s a problem. But that’s my perspective and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the Metro’s perspective. The bottom line is that you have three games to play in two nights, whether that’s playing two on Thursday or two on Friday. And Friday night is when you’re going to get the most people out.”
McIntire said playing one game per night, such as a schedule of freshmen games on Wednesday, junior varsity on Thursday and varsity on Friday, wouldn’t increase travel costs as “you need the same amount of buses, one bus per team.” But if games were to be played on Saturday, there might be increased costs with custodial staff members working on a weekend.
The current scheduling format – playing freshmen games on Thursday followed by junior varsity and varsity contest on Friday – is used by the majority of the state’s football programs. But Williams said “and I hate to say this, but that’s because it’s always been that way.”
Pilcher said any potential changes, such as kicking off the junior varsity at 5 p.m. – as is the case at Elk Grove High School – would not be made for the current season. But even moving the kickoff ahead a half hour could cause trouble for parents leaving work to get to the game on time.
“It is a balancing act, there’s no doubt about it,” Pilcher said. “You know, we have very little control on how a game flows. There’s the passing like you said and there are things like penalties that stop the clock, too.
“But changing games to earlier times, or moving games to Saturdays – which in Nevada County, you’re not going to break that (Friday night) tradition very easily – they bring their own problems with them, too. Starting earlier means taking kids out of school earlier (for travel).
“That’s your give and take, right there. If you do that every week, take kids out of school earlier, that would be a real hassle. It’s not something our teachers would like, it’s not something the students would like – because they still have to make up the work they miss – and I don’t think our parents would support that.”
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