No current University of Toledo football player or coach has read an itinerary for a home game like the one for today. They will rise at 8 or 9 a.m. from the team hotel and get ready to go play a noon game, the program’s earliest start at home in five seasons.
Of the 78 Toledo games staged at the Glass Bowl since 2000, today’s matchup with Navy is the third to begin at the day’s earliest time slot, breaking a streak of 27 consecutive non-noon starts. ESPN used its influence two weeks ago to move the start time up from 7 p.m. to fill programming on ESPNews.
Toledo administrators, who believe later starts draw better crowds, are not complaining. National exposure in this instance is a good thing.
Whatever sleep players banked last night is all they’ll be getting. There will be no time for a pregame nap of which they’ve been accustomed with all the team’s evening starts over the years. Since 2009 when many seniors were redshirt freshmen, Toledo has played at night in 21 of a possible 25 home games.
"It’s hard to sleep anyway," defensive end Christian Smith said with a smile.
The last time Toledo played a noon game at home came in 2008 against Central Michigan. The last time before then came in 2004 against Ohio. The last time before then? Hard to say. Box scores listing start times are unavailable on the team’s Web site for seasons predating 2000. All but 10 home games since 2000 — including today’s — kicked off at night.
"I know our crowd and our fans will like it," coach Matt Campbell said. "I think it will be a unique setting for this football game.I know when the game was announced at noon our kids were excited about it. Our coaches were excited about it. Whether you play at noon or play at 7, it’s still going to be a 60-minute ballgame."
The earlier start is good for families of coaches. For instance, Campbell’s wife and three children will be able to hang out with him after the game. It’s hard to do that when games aren’t wrapping up until 11 p.m.
Many years ago the university conducted a study showing fans’ preference for evening games due to family activities during the game. Evening games historically draw larger numbers from the student population, according to athletic director Mike O’Brien.
Players also see the benefit of finishing up their work day at 4 p.m. or so.
"I think it’s better than playing a night game," running back David Fluellen said. "You have to control your adrenaline throughout the day and try to stay calm and not get emotionally overwhelmed. Noon games, you can wake up and you’re ready to go. You don’t have to wait around to play."
Toledo’s next three home games — against Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, and Northern Illinois — are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. or later.
Noon starts on the road are not uncommon for the Rockets. They opened this season at Florida with a noon game.