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Mountain West, please move your title game to midnight ET

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For whatever reason, the Mountain West Championship no longer gets to shut down college football’s final full Saturday.

A Hawaii football player celebrates a TD. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

The Mountain West is annually one of college football’s best non-power conferences. Its conference championship is thus usually one of the most important, often with a big New Year’s bowl bid at stake. Its teams are known for shutting down each college football Saturday, sometimes in shootouts, sometimes in #Pac12AfterDark-esque fiascos, and sometimes involving Hawaii playing football until 4 a.m. ET.

Most conference title games are kind of bad, but the MWC’s has been an exception — almost always close, with a one-score game in five of its six years so far, including an overtimer.

But for the last few years, Championship Saturday’s schedule has buried one of the most interesting games behind larger ones.

In 2019’s schedule, Hawaii at Boise State — the latter a ranked team with a tiny shot at a New Year’s game, if it were to really impress on — kicks off at the same time as the SEC Championship between one or two Playoff teams. This means Hawaii starting its biggest game in a decade-plus at 11 a.m. Hawaii time!

They’ve also tried this game a little later, at the same time as the ACC and Big Ten. That’s really not any friendlier. We have really gotta move this thing back to the late night.

1. Very few people watch it in its current time slot.

That’s not just because it’s a non-power game! In 2017, the AAC title game nearly equaled the Pac-12’s in TV ratings — yes, the AAC had higher stakes thanks to UCF and wasn’t on Friday, but still — while a really good Boise State-Fresno State MWC matchup landed below the MAC Championship.

Let’s run through old ratings in Sports Media Watch’s records. In 2016 and 2015, the MWC finished last among all conference title games in TV ratings, though that was before the Sun Belt started one. Still, finishing below Conference USA in anything is not ideal.

2. People did watch it in its old time slot!

Kicking off at 10 p.m. ET and getting going as the Power 5 games were winding down led to significantly more eyeballs for the MWC.

In 2014, the MWC had the highest-rated title game among mid-majors, with more than the MAC and C-USA combined.

And in 2013, the game’s first year, the MWC more than tripled the C-USA (and without big-name Boise State being involved).

3. Championship Saturday is essentially the end of college football’s “regular” season. And without a late FBS game, it ends with a sudden jolt.

We’re used to staying up late as the MWC winds things down, hours after the noisy ABC and ESPN primetime games ended. But on the most important Saturday of the year, everything just ends all at once.

It’s jarring and disappointing. Every year, I find myself wishing the MWC game was only in its second quarter as the ACC and Big Ten finished. Instead, we just keep arguing about Playoff rankings for the next 12+ hours.

4. The Mountain West already plays late all year long.

Late games can be challenging logistically — Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin has said he wishes all games kicked off at noon local — but MWC members should at least be used to it. Some players even prefer it.

Hasn’t been an issue, was Nevada coach Jay Norvell’s response. Outside of my control, San Diego State’s Rocky Long said.

‘It doesn’t bother me. In high school games we play at 7, so I’m used to playing under the lights,’ Nevada defensive end Malik Reed said. ‘It’s fun to me. It’s fun to play on TV more, get that exposure. Not only for our players and team, but for our community.’

There’s not much better opportunity for TV exposure than to be the only viewing option available on Championship Saturday, right? TV scheduling is complex, but it’s hard for me to see the downside for either ESPN or the MWC here.

(Besides, every conference should just do whatever the hell it wants with its 13th game anyway.)