Instead, the third-round Southwest Regional game between No. 2 seed Notre Dame and No. 10 Florida State might not end until after midnight. Tip-off Sunday is scheduled for 9:40 p.m. (South Bend time, EDT).
"We’ve played at all times of the day all season long," said senior captain Tim Abromaitis. "We’ll approach it like any other game, maybe get a nap in and be ready to go."
Notre Dame officials did not learn of Sunday’s start until nearly 12:30 a.m., Saturday morning. The Irish coaching staff found out when they gathered for breakfast Why such a delay?
Under the previous broadcast format, all third-round games played on the first Sunday of the tournament were aired exclusively on CBS. The day’s last game typically started no later than 5 p.m. South Bend time. That way, the network would not have to pre-empt one of its top-rated shows, 60 Minutes.
But when television coverage expanded this year to include TBS, TNT and truTV, start times for all second- and third-round games were staggered. That way, the four stations could each broadcast games simultaneously with minimal overlap.
The schedule created later tip times to optimize viewership. Two teams – Notre Dame and Florida State – were handed the latest start time possible to decide the final spot in the Sweet 16.
"You’re trained to think 2 and 5 (p.m. starts) under the old CBS thing," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "I was kind of mentally preparing (for the night slot). It’s great. It gives us more recovery time."
Notre Dame’s time switch was one of the most drastic in the tournament. Of the 32 teams involved in the 16 third-round games, only four were handed start times that were drastically different from their second-round games.
While Notre Dame and Florida State had its tip time moved back, Florida and UCLA had its third-round game time bumped up. Both teams played Thursday night before Saturday’s third-round game started at 1:45 p.m. Eastern time. The other 28 teams followed a relatively similar time schedule – those that played during the day the first day, played during the day in the second. Those that played at night, were again at night.
Any complaints from fans that had to scramble to change flights home or will walk into work Monday morning bleary-eyed, might fall on deaf ears. Under the new television format, early ratings were up 16 percent. The eight games played Thursday averaged 7.4 million viewers.
Having to sit around the hotel much of the day is routine for the Irish. Their Big East Championship semifinal game against Louisville on March 11 did not start until 9:50 p.m.
"We’ve done this before," Brey said. "I talked them about that during the week – we know how to turn this around and manage the day.
"I don’t think that affects us. It’s just a long day."
One shining moment
Regardless of what happens the rest of this month, or how far Notre Dame might travel in the NCAA Tournament, walk-on guard Tom Kopko will remember his senior season for so many reasons.
A four-year member of the program, Kopko capped his final home appearance Feb. 28 in storybook fashion when he scored the final basket in a 32-point win.
It was his only field goal in Big East play this season. Could he have scripted it any better? Not likely.
"It was a great way to end my home career," Kopko said. "I leave Purcell Pavilion the last guy to score in a season when we were undefeated (19-0) at home.