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Column: Why are games on so late?

I can barely keep my eyes open.

UCLA v Gonzaga Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We’ll be watching Jalen Suggs’ shot for years to come.

Gonzaga’s freshman guard took three dribbles before thrusting the ball 55-whole feet, hitting the three-pointer that gave the Zags an OT win over UCLA Saturday.

It’ll be like Christian Laettner’s shot in 1992 to give Duke the win over Kentucky — a few moments of TV time that’ll sink into the cultural consciousness forever and ever.

Many people will sit down and tell their grandkids about how they saw the shot live. But some of us watched it hours later...like the next morning. When we woke up from being asleep because the game started too late. Because how, really, can we be expected to stay up that late? I’m much too old for this.

The game, granted, featured two West Coast teams, and tipped off at 8:34 p.m. ET. Sure, that makes sense for the local audience (5:34 p.m. PT), but it’s a royal pain when considering it was one of the two marquee games airing on the opening day of the Final Four, the other of which started late in the afternoon.

But back to my selfish disappointment. Imagine my dismay when I realized the game I’d fallen asleep watching because I couldn’t make it through the halftime show had, in fact, boasted a fairytale ending.

Okay, maybe it’s just FOMO. And it’s probably (definitely) my own fault for being incapable of staying up past 9 p.m. Perhaps I should have primed myself with an afternoon nap or come equipped with a caffeinated beverage. (The old lady in me is now reminding me that I’ll never get to sleep if I have caffeine after 5 p.m., so poo poo on that plan).

But that won’t stop me from being bitter about missing one of the greatest moments in sports in recent memory, and one which comes in a year where we’re all on the hunt for miracles. It also doesn’t help that we’ve got another late night event to view Monday evening, when top-seeded Gonzaga takes on fellow one-seed Baylor at 9:20 p.m. ET in the finals of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

It may as well be midnight.

The trouble is I’m not even looking forward to the matchup anymore. The real-life balance of needing to go to my day job the next day means that, unless I’m actively invested in one of the teams (I’m not), then I probably won’t be willing to lose sleep to watch the game. I also imagine that I’m not alone in that view.

Let’s consider, then, the downstream effects of this matchup: Waco and Spokane aren’t exactly major markets, and Baylor and Gonzaga aren’t massive in terms of their alumni bases. There’s always the annual cult following of March Madness advocates, especially those who had one or both teams going deep in their brackets, so the fact Gonzaga and Baylor are both one-seeds means a larger following than, say, a four-seed.

But there’s also no Cinderella factor. If UCLA had made it to the finals, you could probably count on a sizable portion of folks with busted brackets who just wanted to see the 11-seed succeed.

No, the reality is that, even with the best of intentions, when it comes down to it, a lot of even avid sports fans will miss out on the game.

Because (and I’ve been saying it for years): Sports start too late. I’m even at an advantage being in Central Time and still can’t hang. What is the motivation for having premiere college sports championships on Monday nights? We see it with the College Football Playoff Championship year in and year out. It happens with professional playoffs, and it is happening now with the finals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The only advantage is that the women’s championship remained unencumbered Sunday night. So whether intentionally (or more likely not, given the NCAA’s track record this year), that helps.

Why can’t the game start earlier? Obviously that can be a challenge for the West Coast folks, especially in a year in which there are two teams coming from Pacific Time. In that case, why can’t the game be on a weekend night?

Who knows if it’s actually why the Super Bowl is scheduled for earlier on a Sunday evening, but the reality is an earlier matchup means more people can stay up to watch. I can say for certain that I’ve only ever accidentally fallen asleep watching the Super Bowl. Further (thinking ahead to a future when we can have parties again), hosting an early evening party for a sporting event feels way more doable (like when you can have dinner during actual dinner time instead of having apps and pretending to be happy about it at 9:30 p.m.).

But a late night matchup on a work night or school night? Not gonna happen.

As an actual reason to change beyond my own crankiness, late matchups cut out future generations of sports fans. Sure, there are exceptions when kids get to stay up late to watch games, but it certainly isn’t a regular thing.

Then there’s cutting out people who have to work the next day (yep, back to me, here). Even in COVID, my day starts well before 9 a.m. And as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a major wimp who needs a full eight hours of sleep in order to be a generally pleasant person the next day (when I got COVID last week, I needed 12-14. I was in full-on toddler mode, tantrums and all).

Then there are the implications for the few, actual live humans who are in the stands this post-season. Can you imagine how miserable it would be to be at a game at like midnight surrounded by cardboard cutouts and trying to cheer on your team?

Sure, there’s a lot that’s weird about this year. Games had to have longer times between the final buzzer and tip off in order to accommodate for COVID protocols. But that sure doesn’t explain why the sole game tipping off on a Monday (again, why?) starts so gosh darned late, or why when there were just two games, they didn’t even begin the schedule until late afternoon.

Once again, I’m just a bitter person over the age of 30 who values a good night’s sleep. But I’m still putting in my biannual plea to move games to when people can actually watch them.