Blanchette: Prime time doesn’t look so prime to ticket holders

Cougars receiver Gabe Marks scores on a 34-yard pass from Connor Halliday to make the score 21-7 in the second quarter. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – The New Breed Commissioner was in town Thursday night so he could be thanked for funding the five-story treat under construction rising above the east end zone at Martin Stadium, as well as the Larry Scott Endowed Coaching Chair for Going For It on Fourth Down.

See, that’s his money from the Pac-12’s kajillion-dollar TV deal footing the freight for the big-ticket items at Washington State these days. It’s odd that just 20,617 showed up to pay homage.

Why, what do you mean you don’t like the 7:30 p.m. starts on weeknights?

These days, you’re lucky they dust off a seat for you in the TV studio. Er, stadium.

Halloween broke crisp and clear in the Palouse, in contrast to the heads of a significant portion of a well-prefunked Wazzu student body – afternoon classes having been canceled by President Elson Floyd knowing that A) he’d need to clear out the parking lots, and B) classrooms would be mostly empty anyway.

Sort of like the South Grandstand come kickoff.

Let’s review that.

School canceled. On account of football. At Wazzu. Where the team is 16-44 since 2008.

OK, to be accurate, canceled on account of TV. Still.

Lots of Cougar bros high-fived one another over this epic development, with ESPN – the actual mothership – on campus for the first time since 1990 and all, and on Thursday night we learned just how epic.

Amped up by the supercharged student section, the Cougars spotted Arizona State a four-touchdown lead at halftime. By then, the students – and the ESPN audience for whom these accommodations had been made – had vamoosed, and athletic department marketers might have wondered why they didn’t just hand out brown paper bags to the kids to wear instead of the wild-and-crazy Lucha Libre masks that incurred the ire of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan student group.

The final count was 55-21 for the 25th-ranked Sun Devils. All in all, an evening more Wulffian than epic.

Check that. You might remember that when these teams met here two years ago, Paul Wulff’s Cougars won 37-27. Since then, the Sun Devils have dropped 46 and 55 on them.

Hmm. That couldn’t have been what Scott was talking about when he said that with the Pac-12’s revenue-sharing planning “schools like Washington State have disproportionately benefited.”

But the good news?

The Cougs get to make something like this a regular date, as commissioner Scott noted the TV package requires each Pac-12 member to host a Thursday or Friday night game twice every three years.

So soon enough the Cougar fan from Spokane who guts it out until the final gun will once again motor home and rally on three hours sleep to face one of the boss’ interminable Friday staff meetings or rebuild a transmission.

Not that he shouldn’t be used to it by now. This is the fourth Cougar home game in a row that’s kicked off at 7 p.m. or later.

So, Lar, has the ticket-buying fan become an afterthought to the Pac-12?

“Some people might respond to it that way,” he allowed, “but there’s a balance. We still have most of our games during the day.”

He must be talking about a vampire’s workday.

Counting the weekend’s games, Pac-12 schools have played 13 home games with starts between noon and 2 p.m. and 12 with starts from 3 to 5.

Games that kick off at 6 and later? Try 33.

And other than the Arizona schools – which traditionally played early-season night games even before the TV package – no one has been stuck in the late slot as much as the Cougs, who have also done it twice on the road.

Speaking of disproportionate – especially for a school which must draw chunks of its audience from Spokane, the Tri-Cities and the non-509 area codes.

Those big swatches of empty seats must of looked great in that “national spotlight” Scott trumpeted Thursday night.

Scott makes an easy villain here, but the fact is “the highest priority I was given to work on when I came to the conference was how do we get more (games) on TV, and how do we get more national exposure, and how do we get our revenues up,” he said. “We were underexposed from a TV perspective.”

Now every game is beamed to a national audience one way or another. But ESPN and Fox Sports 1 like night games. The broadcast networks don’t want competing product when they’re airing a Pac-12 game in the afternoon. That’s why you’re as likely to see three prime-time games on a Saturday as multiple games at a traditional football hour.

“We’re not going to do away with them,” Scott said.

“They’re a fundamental part of our new TV agreement and of high value to our broadcast partners.”

And their ticket-buying partners?

Don’t worry. They can cancel classes again so you can have the professor’s parking spot.

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