The most entertaining game that took place at McLane Stadium on Saturday wasn’t the one that unfolded on the griddle — er, the turf.
That’s not a knock on the Baylor team. I thought the Bears produced another impressive and complete performance in spanking visiting UTSA.
But in the stands, the fans were playing their own game, called Follow the Shade.
As the sun changed positions throughout the afternoon, the Baylor supporters shifted and retreated and changed their seats to remain shaded. Only a few brave (read: crazy) souls actually absorbed the full-on sun.
And I’m not here to throw shade at those Baylor sun dodgers. Who could blame them? Nor could you blame the tens of thousands who just decided, “Aw, the heck with it, I’m staying home!”
Photos from Baylor football vs. UTSA: Sept. 7, 2019
Photos by Jerry Larson and Rod Aydelotte
A 3 p.m. game in Waco, Texas, in early September isn’t entertainment. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. On top of that, it’s the most damning piece of evidence yet that shows that television wields too much control over college football.
TV brings rich contributions to the college game. In many ways, it’s great for the fans. Want to watch games all day from every corner of the country? All from the air-conditioned comfort of your living room? You have that right — and that option.
Then there’s that TV money. Big-time college athletic programs count on it to help cover their expansive budgets.
But in order to give the viewers at home wall-to-wall action, the networks sometimes push teams into less-than-ideal game times. Hence, the situation at Baylor on Saturday.
“It’s a conversation we had back in May, late May, just about playing at certain times in the month of September,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said. “This preference, this big-time preference, to not play at 3 o’clock. If we talk about student-athlete health and wellness, health and safety, I don’t think that’s the best time to play.”
Exactly. It was one of those days where you might’ve thought, “Let’s go outside and do something” … until you actually walked outside. The game-time temperature hovered near 100 degrees. Pregame reports surfaced that the on-field temperatures hit upward of 160. Remember, these modern-day turfs are planted in a soil of rubber granules, and they’re estimated to percolate anywhere from 40 to 70 degrees hotter than the air temperature on a sunny day.
That’s why you have to question Fox Sports’ decision to put the Baylor-UTSA game in the 3 p.m. time slot. Though both UTSA and Baylor seemed to handle the conditions about as well as could be hoped, it would have made much more sense from a player safety standpoint to play this one at 6 or 7.
Besides that, don’t TV executives want to showcase the best game-day atmosphere possible? There is little question that playing the game later in the day — the shade at 6 p.m. had enveloped at least two-thirds of the stadium — would have drawn thousands more fans who opted to dodge the heat instead.
Now, you might ask, couldn’t Baylor just have refused that time slot? Well, no, not really. The schools have limited options in fighting a particular game time. That’s why it is incumbent on the TV executives to communicate with the teams and make a decision based on what’s best for the players and fans, rather than what might be best for their programming lineup.
“Would we have preferred to play at 6? Heck, yeah,” Rhoades said. “For our student-athletes and also for our fans. Once game times are set, do we have any recourse? Not really. And it’s something that we’ve got to have a lot more conversations about.”
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said, “I’ve never played in a game that hot in my life.” Quarterback Charlie Brewer actually left the game because his feet felt hot. Was it a result of the weather or some other injury? The team wasn’t sure immediately after the game.
Put it this way — if Brewer’s cleats had melted into a puddle of rubber goo and s