Why Georgia Tech has played so many early games

Georgia Tech was assigned a noon kickoff Monday for the Georgia game on Nov. 26. In other news, pancakes continue to be rich in calories.

The noon start in Athens will be the eighth in 12 games this season that the Yellow Jackets will kick off at noon or 12:30 p.m. That’s the most among ACC teams. Last year, the Jackets began games in the 12 o’clock hour four times.

In this instance, the easy answer for the preponderance of early starts — a conspiracy led by the ACC and ESPN to limit exposure and ruin tailgating for Tech fans — is errant. Instead, it’s a matter of Tech’s three-game losing streak earlier in the season, programming and a little bit of chance.

“There’s obviously a lot of factors that go into this,” said Nick Dawson, vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN. “Frankly, it’s probably as much coincidence that that has happened as anything.”

By contractual agreement between the ACC and ESPN, the network (and ABC) gets first pick of ACC games every week. Typically, that’s three or four games per Saturday. After that, the ACC Network, operated by Raycom, chooses next. Following Raycom, Fox Sports South selects and syndicates that game across other regional sports networks in the ACC footprint. Remaining games are streamed online by ESPN.

ESPN, which has the most flexibility to vary game times, passed on the Jackets four weeks in a row after airing their 35-21 loss to Miami on Oct. 1 on ESPN2, a noon start.

Tech’s consecutive ACC losses to Clemson, Miami and Pittsburgh “sort of took them out of the storyline of the conference championship race early in the process, which means they’re going to land on the Raycom and RSN package more often than not,” Dawson said. “Kind of a non-story.”

The fact that Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina have all been in the top 25 undoubtedly has made their matchups appealing. What is also worth remembering is that ESPN also has agreements with the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 and other non-power conferences. Dawson said he couldn’t remember why the Miami-Tech game was aired at noon on ESPN2, but “I’m sure it revolved around trying to fit the whole puzzle together across all the conferences.”

Given the opportunity to select Tech games, Raycom has chosen to carry Jackets games four times this season — Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Saturday’s game against Virginia. That has made a full third of the season locked in as an early start. Games broadcast on the over-the-air ACC Network (CW-69 in Atlanta) are contractually obligated to start at 12:30 p.m.

Raycom passed on two Tech games — Georgia Southern and Duke — which were picked up by Fox Sports South. Fox Sports South’s kickoff times vary from between noon to 7 p.m. The Atlanta-based station determines its kickoff times in collaboration with other regional sports networks inside the ACC footprint — including Fox Sports Carolinas, Fox Sports Florida and the YES Network in New York — that also have other obligations to broadcast other games. NESN in New England, for instance, carries Red Sox games.

Once by choice and once by circumstance, Tech ended up early with Fox Sports South. For the Tech-Georgia Southern game, Fox Sports South aired only one game that day, and it happened to be at 12:30 p.m. For the Tech-Duke game, the channel had two slots, noon and 3:30 p.m. Fox Sports South went with the early spot for Tech, as it didn’t want to go up against another game of local interest airing at 3:30 p.m., Georgia-Florida.

The Georgia Southern game, by the way, earned a 2.3 rating in the Atlanta market, Fox Sports South’s highest ACC game in the market since Tech played Southern in 2014.

That the Georgia game is on at noon on the SEC Network is curious, as the other two games it will carry that day — Ole Miss-Mississippi State at 3:30 p.m. and Tennessee-Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. — only include one team above .500. However, given that it’s a network that serves SEC fans, league games may carry more importance.

Tech fans can be encouraged by this, at least. No bowl game with an ACC tie-in starts at noon. Three, however, start at 11 a.m.

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