One of these days, I’m going to get it through my thick skull that college football’s capacity to disappoint me is bottomless. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more bummed out about the future of the sport, along comes this:
ESPN plans to study college football data this offseason for an age-old question in sports: Does more scoring produce higher television viewership?
CBS set record ratings this season for the SEC in a year in which the conference shattered many of its offensive records. Viewership is up on ESPN for this season’s BCS bowls, which have been some of the highest-scoring in the histories of those games.
“There’s sort of an anecdotal opinion that high-scoring games bring more people to the set,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming.
Oh, goody. And, gee, if that turns out to be the case, I wonder what the WWL will want to do about it. Well, let everybody’s favorite hack explain it to you.
“I heard from a purist this morning who said, ‘You guys have ruined the game with all this scoring,’” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said this week. “I like them both. I was looking forward to the rock’ em, sock ‘em Rose Bowl, and I was looking forward to what we anticipated happening at the Fiesta Bowl. The casual fan would rather see 52-45 than 7-6. Fans love offense. And I think during games people are talking people telling them, ‘You need to tune in.’”
Chicks dig the long ball! And ESPN digs chicks. The more, the merrier.
Now certainly on one level this is simply the result of being in a golden era of offensive innovation – as a reminder, you could do worse than check out the latest thing Chris Brown has written about what Malzahn is up to – but college football, just like any other sport, can make changes to the rules that open up scoring regardless of the prevailing offensive schemes. Let’s face it, offensive holding is almost extinct. The new targeting rules, while ostensibly created for other purposes, also restrict defenses. Officials’ approach to running no huddle attacks has definitely been relaxed over the last decade, as any Georgia fan can tell you. And there’s plenty more where that came from (I keep expecting the NCAA to adopt the NFL’s rule for pass interference).
Bottom line, if there’s one thing we know from the past few years, it’s that what ESPN wants, it generally gets. Payment has its privileges. And if big scoring games drive viewership, which in turn drives rights fees, what do you think Bill Hancock’s bosses will do in response? Yeah, that’s what I think, too.
This isn’t about defense über alles, either. I’m not longing for an world of Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2. I was enthralled as anybody with the Georgia-LSU back and forth in this season’s meeting. But the idea that college football needs to tinker with the margins to make the sport appealing to casual fans – bracket lovers, if I may be allowed the analogy – strikes me as both profoundly stupid for a sport that is so obviously built on a passionate fan base as well as insulting to those of us who already love what we’ve got.
Anyway, here’s hoping I’m wrong about what that study turns up. After all, if offense were everything, wouldn’t Conference USA have dominated the ratings over the past decade?