The Big Ten's policy, and that of its television partners, has not changed regarding kickoff times for teams in the Central time zone, a league executive said Friday. Schools can express their preferences, but TV networks still make the call -- and that includes 11 a.m. kickoffs.
"There is more flexibility now than in the past," said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner, who handles TV contracts. "But our agreements allow TV to make those decisions."
The Gophers were forced to play eight home games at 11 a.m. in TCF Bank Stadium's first two seasons, thanks to a clause that limited 2:30 p.m. (Central) starts to just one game per week. But that provision was negotiated out of the revised contract last year, and Minnesota played no morning home games, the school's stated preference.
On Thursday, however, the conference announced that Minnesota's first Big Ten home game, Oct. 13 against Northwestern, will kick off at 11 a.m., seemingly confirming recent rumors that low ratings for Minnesota games would force BTN to relegate them to the early window, or that other Central time zone schools were seeking the same consideration that the Gophers had received. "We hear a lot of conspiracy theories around here," Rudner said.
None of them are true, he insisted. BTN is allowed to televise games at 2:30 p.m., opposite ABC's weekly Big Ten game, which provides more opportunity to avoid pre-noon starts for Central teams, but there never was a guarantee that morning kickoffs would be eliminated. "There will still be instances, obviously," where the Gophers will be assigned the early start, Rudner said. "Every school has its own preference, but ultimately, it's up to TV. And nothing is different this year."