Cobbservations 005: Here's the problem with 9 p.m. games in SEC hoops

Cobbservations 005: Here's the problem with 9 p.m. games in SEC hoops

February 14th, 2018 by David Cobb in Breaking News

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin talks with members of the media on the sidelines during practice, Thursday, March 23, 2017, at Madison Square Garden in New York. South Carolina takes on Baylor in an east regional semifinal of the NCAA college basketball tournament on Friday. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Photo by Julie Jacobson

South Carolina coach Frank Martin strolled into his postgame interview late Tuesday night after his team's 70-67 loss at Tennessee and took a seat.

"I hope we can get home before two in the morning," Martin said. "Nothing better than playing at 9 p.m. Two East Coast teams at 9 p.m."

A bus was waiting outside the arena to take his team to a plane that would take the Gamecocks back to Columbia, where they would get on another bus that would take them back to campus in time to get a few hours of sleep before 8 a.m. classes.

Two teams from the Eastern time zone were slotted in a 9 p.m. Eastern contest on Tuesday night while two teams from the Central time zone played at 6 p.m. Central. This happened, presumably, because of the preference of ESPN/SEC Nework.

Martin thought enough of this oddity to point it out with the first words he spoke to the media.

"It is what it is," he said.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 3/17/17. David Cobb is the Chattanooga Times Free Press's new Tennessee beat reporter. Taken on March 16, 2017.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

To be clear, Martin did not use the late start as any sort of excuse for why his team fell just short of upsetting the Volunteers. He was just chiming in an on an issue that is a point of discussion among media, fans, players and, yes, the coaches. The consensus among all those factions is that it makes little sense to have two teams from the Eastern time playing each other at 9 p.m. on a weeknight.

If you read my hastily thrown together game story in Wednesday morning's Times Free Press, you'll understand why newspaper reporters don't love the late start times.

Yet the same thing will play out Wednesday night when Central time zone teams Mississippi State and Vanderbilt play at 6 p.m. in Nashville while Eastern time zone teams Georgia and Florida play at 9 p.m. in Gainesville.

It's worth taking a closer examination at how these illogical tip times affects attendance and the participating student-athletes.

A quick, unscientific glance shows the odd start times are bad for both fans and student-athletes.

In Knoxville, it was smallest crowd of SEC play and the third-smallest of the season on Tuesday. The 13,126 that came were loud and had plenty of displeasure to show toward the officiating crew that made it an even longer night by calling 40 fouls and making lengthy trips to the review monitor.

 Loud as the fans were, the attendance was nearly 3,000 fans below the 15,981 Tennessee was averaging at home games entering the night.

Reports from the 6 p.m. tip between Texas A&M and Missouri on Wednesday were that it was a late-arriving crowd to Mizzou Arena. It will almost certainly be the same way in Nashville tonight as fans navigate rush hour in the heart of the city as they travel to Memorial Gym.

As for the student-athletes, there were no excuses or whining coming from the two Tennessee players I asked about it. But Grant Williams and Jordan Bowden, who each played 34 minutes on Tuesday night, acknowledged the challenges posed by late games.

"It's tough. Like tonight, I've got an 8:00 class in the morning," said Bowden, a sociology major. "So you've just got to get back, get rest and stay hydrated. It's a grind. It's really a grind. You've got to love it. You've got to love the grind. It's tough, though."

Williams is a business administration major. He did not have an 8 a.m. class Wednesday morning.

"What's tommorrow?" he said. "Wednesday? No, I have a 9 a.m. (class), which is just as bad."

The 6-foot-7 forward added that you've got to be prepared to suffer the consequences if you miss class and don't have a good reason. A late game does not qualify as a good reason.

"No. You can't say, 'ah, I got back at two in the morning. I'm tired.' We chose to do this. This is something we want to do, and we're student-athletes first."

The issue of making it to class after a late night of competition and travel might be toughest on baseball and softball players who make frequent mid-week bus trips to other campuses in their region for games. At least those are a necessity of the sport and they typically start at a logical, early evening hour. One problem with these oddly timed basketball games is that they are not a necessity of the sport.

They are the preference of people who profit off the sport played by athletes that are supposed to be students first.

David Cobb is the Tennessee athletics beat writer for the Times Free Press. He is stationed in Knoxville. Follow him @DavidWCobb on Twitter, or direct your emails to Oh, and go download the Times Free Press mobile app. It's free.