Chip Kelly: Pac-12 after dark hurts UCLA stars’ chances of winning national awards
Does a Heisman Trophy candidacy exist if no one can see it?
UCLA has two of the nation’s most riveting players in Zach Charbonnet and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but a second consecutive late start might send East Coast viewers to bed before Charbonnet jukes a defender or Thompson-Robinson zips a pass.
That leaves Bruins coach Chip Kelly as his stars’ chief lobbyist ahead of his team’s 7:30 p.m. PDT kickoff against Arizona State on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Zach Charbonnet was too much for Stanford to handle, rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns in No. 12 UCLA’s 38-13 victory at the Rose Bowl.
“The only thing that’s sad about starting at 7:30 at night is we have a running back that’s No. 2 in the country in all-purpose yards and three-quarters of the country doesn’t get a chance to see him play,” Kelly said Monday of a game that will be broadcast by FS1. “How many people on the East Coast saw that run [against Stanford] that we just talked about for Zach? Part of being able to play earlier in the day is those highlights are shown throughout the day.
“I could tell you the highlights of all the games that occurred at noon ‘cause we were in our hotel room, we were here [at the Luskin Center on campus] and you could watch all of them. So part of the one thing that’s sad about playing those night games is the exposure that our student-athletes don’t get that other student-athletes get.”
Kelly went on to list a handful of players including Charbonnet and Thompson-Robinson in addition to edge rusher Laiatu Latu, one of the Pac-12’s sack leaders less than a year after having medically retired, and standout receiver Jake Bobo who might be overlooked because of another so-called Pac-12 After Dark game.
“There’s a bunch of really, really good football players here and at all the schools on the West Coast,” Kelly said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’re excited about going to the Big Ten is that there’s better exposure for you by going to the Big Ten. I don’t know what the monetary figure on that exposure is, but I think it’s a big deal. You want to have the country see them.”
The financial boon awaiting UCLA with the Big Ten, coupled with its athletes playing on a more visible stage, spurred the decision to leave the Pac-12.
UCLA’s move to the Big Ten in 2024 is expected to generate earlier kickoff times for conference games. One person with knowledge of the proposed scheduling models not authorized to comment publicly because they have not been finalized said that most games would start earlier in the day, with an occasional start in the late-night television window.
“That’s why I’ll commend our administration about that move to the Big Ten,” Kelly said of the increased viewership that comes with earlier starts. “There’s a huge monetary gain going to the Big Ten, but I think the exposure that our student-athletes get — and that’s what our goal is all the time, the main thing has to be about our student-athletes — and the more exposure we can get our student-athletes by moving to that league is a really cool deal.”
UCLA has largely avoided late starts this season. Its 7:36 p.m. kickoff against Stanford last weekend was the latest Saturday start the team had faced all season, in addition to a similar Friday night start against Washington. The Bruins’ other kickoff times this season: 11 a.m. (twice), 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. (twice) and 2 p.m.
Besides the lack of exposure, Kelly said he did not like waiting all day for kickoff.
“I see zero benefit,” Kelly said of the late starts before listing two reasons they exist. “Television. Money … I don’t think any player or any coach would say, ‘Hey, what do you want to do tomorrow?’ ‘Well, let’s sit around all day and do something tomorrow night.’ That’s not what competitors want to do. They want to play.”
UCLA used a balanced effort to shut down Stanford and bounce back from the Bruins’ recent loss to Oregon, keeping their Pac-12 title hopes alive.
Those who tune out the Bruins are missing two of the nation’s most dynamic players. With 170.8 all-purpose yards per game, the hard-charging Charbonnet trails only Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda (177.8) in that category. Charbonnet’s 137.7 yards rushing per game ranks No. 3 nationally, behind only Alabama-Birmingham’s DeWayne McBride (163.7) and Illinois’ Chase Brown (151).
Having already produced a season’s worth of highlights, Thompson-Robinson ranks No. 10 nationally with a 165.7 passer efficiency rating while leading a 10th-ranked team that remains in the running for its first Pac-12 championship since 1998.
Winning the rest of their games while moving into contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals might be the only way for the Bruins to counteract the late starts.
“I mean, we can’t really control it, everybody can see the replay and the highlights,” running back Kazmeir Allen said, “so I would say that’s the only cool part about it.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.