Another early start time for N.C. State has coach Dave Doeren quoting Jimmy Buffett and many Wolfpack fans singing the blues.
Saturday’s ACC opener with Virginia will kick off at 12:20 p.m. N.C. State’s first two games also started at either noon or 12:30 p.m.
The only home game that wasn’t supposed to start early, was against West Virginia on Sept. 15. That game, a 3:30 p.m. scheduled start, was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.
“Another noon kick, so get our fans up early and just remind them it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” Doeren said, which is a reference to a Buffett song with country star Alan Jackson. “Come over here with a good attitude and let’s have some fun in the stadium.”
Many N.C. State fans on social media were hesitant to embrace Doeren’s “let’s make lemonade” attitude.
“Infuriating.” “Beyond Ridiculous.” “Is this a joke?”
Those were the printable responses on Twitter by N.C. State fans after the game time (12:30 p.m.) for next week’s game with Boston College was announced.
Wolfpack fans haven’t been able to celebrate an ACC football title since 1979 but they have turned tailgating into their own celebrations. Producing NFL quarterbacks and tailgating are arguably the two best things going for N.C. State in the past three decades.
The occasional early start adds variety to the tailgate menus outside Carter-Finley Stadium but N.C. State is in the middle of a streak of four straight kicks in the 12 o’clock hour.
Since the gates to the stadium parking lots don’t open until five hours before the kickoff, the early start times cramp the fans’ ability to tailgate.
Steve Young, 46, of Holly Springs has been a season-ticket holder for 20 years. He regularly has between 50 and 100 people at his tailgate in the RV lot.
“People arrive later, get ramped up slower and get too hot inside,” Young said of the early kickoff times. “They then leave sooner, usually before the game is over, and that affects the energy level in the stadium.”
Young and many N.C. State fans are frustrated with the ACC but the conference does not control the start times.
“Game times and networks are determined by our TV partners,” Kevin Best, associate ACC commissioner, said in a statement provided to The News & Observer.
ESPN paid the ACC $236 million in 2017 for the broadcast rights and N.C. State’s share was $26.5 million, according to tax returns.
Early starts, in the TV window between noon and 1 p.m, are not a problem specific to N.C. State. Since the start of the 2013 season (Doeren’s first), Boston College and Pittsburgh have played the most home games (22 each) in the early window, according to the game-time archive on fbcschedules.com.
Georgia Tech has played the second-most (21), followed by North Carolina (17) and N.C. State, Syracuse and Virginia Tech have had 15 each. Miami (10) has played the fewest.
N.C. State’s four-game streak of noon or 12:30 kicks is tied for the longest over that six-season span. Georgia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse and Florida State have also had such single-season streaks over that span.
ESPN, which has to regularly fill 18 TV slots on five different channels (including ABC), doesn’t factor in how many times a team has played at a certain time when it sets the kickoff times.
The cable network has to piece together a weekly puzzle with SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, Big 12 and “Group of 5” teams. ESPN picks the ACC games it wants for its time slots and then Raycom Sports picks two games for its over-the-air slot (12:20 p.m.) and regional sports cable (the start time can vary).
The Raycom component will be eliminated with the start of the ACC’s own ESPN-owned cable channel, “The ACC Network,” in 2019.
The ACC’s best teams have received priority from ESPN. Florida State and Clemson, who have combined to win the last seven league titles, have had the most home games in either primetime (between 7-8 p.m.) or in the 3:30 p.m. window.
That makes sense. ESPN wants to spotlight the league’s best teams. One problem for N.C. State, three of its last six games against either the Tigers or Seminoles has been played in the early window.
N.C. State has been better lately under Doeren but has the seventh-best win percentage (.552, 37-30) during Doeren’s tenure. The Wolfpack has only had four home primetime appearances (tied for fewest in the ACC) during that time. A fifth, a Thursday night game with Wake Forest, is scheduled for Nov. 8. (Young joked ESPN will probably changed that game to noon, too.)
The ACC Network should help alleviate some of the early start times. More games are likely to be moved to Thursday and Friday nights as a part of the new package.
In-state teams have been hesitant to clash with high school football on Friday nights. Both N.C. State and UNC have asked the ACC and ESPN not to play home games on Fridays. Duke had a Friday home game with Army to open the season and hosted Miami on a Friday night in 2017.
If the ACC Network is set up like the SEC Network, there will be a weekly tripleheader on Saturdays with games at 12, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. That weekly primetime slot is something the league lacks right now.
That doesn’t help N.C. State, or any other ACC team, this season, but it does offer some light at the end of the tunnel for weary, sunburned fans.
Fred Demarest, an associate athletic director at N.C. State, said a later start time, particularly in September, is obviously better for the fans. When the school does get to choose its start time, it often goes with 6 p.m. N.C. State has had seven home games (most among ACC teams) start between 5 and 6 p.m. since the start of the 2013 season.
“We understand and appreciate the feedback from our fans regarding the issues with noon kickoffs in early September and we prefer start times for our early games to be later,” Demarest said in a statement provided to The News & Observer.
“We also track game times to best ensure we are not singled out for early starts. That has been balanced until this season and we have indicated that to the league office.”
Doeren, who has an 8-7 record in noon or 12:30 p.m. home games, has asked the fans to make the best of a frustrating situation.
“We don’t get to choose what time the game is but we get to choose how loud we are and how much fun we have,” Doeren said. “So hopefully they’ll do that for us. I’m expecting them to and it should be a great day in the stadium.”