A rising Cuban lifts all boats.

Overall college football TV ratings declined in 2010.

CBS led all nets broadcasting college football this season with a 4.2 rating and 6.9 million viewers for its package of SEC games. The net this season topped ABC’s college football broadcasts for only the second time since ’90. However, CBS’ figures are down 4.5% from the net’s record-setting numbers last season, when CBS earned its best ratings for SEC games since the net began re-airing college football in ’96. ABC averaged a 3.5 rating for its 30 college football telecasts this season, which was down just over 10% from last year. The net saw ratings decline for both its Saturday 3:30pm ET games (-0.9%) and for its Saturday primetime games (-9.5%). NBC averaged a 2.1 rating and 3.1 million viewers for its eight Notre Dame football telecasts this season, down 12.5% and 15.0%, respectively, from last year.

Those are the kind of results you get when it’s an off year for traditional powers like Florida, Texas and Southern Cal.  The breakdown by network is telling.

% +/-
% +/-
NOTES: * = SEC Package only. Excludes Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Navy telecasts.

The graphics are hard to read, but the numbers in the fourth (viewers) and fifth (% chg from ’09) columns are the important ones.  That’s where you can see where our eyeballs are trained.

And here’s how ESPN’s numbers break down further.

% +/-
% +/-
Saturday primetime
Saturday 12:00pm ET
Thursday primetime
Saturday 3:30pm ET

Our strong preference is to watch the teams from the big conferences.   True, that Boise State-Virginia Tech game got us looking, but BSU and its conference didn’t draw anything like that over the rest of the season.  None of the mid-majors did.

I mention all of this as a preference to Mark Cuban’s proposal to finance a college football playoff.  Here’s his crude outline of how he sees his plan unfolding.

… Cuban said he envisions either a 12- or 16-team playoff field with the higher seeds getting homefield advantage. The homefield advantage, Cuban said, would ensure the college football regular-season games would not lose any importance.

The bowl games could still exist under Cuban’s plan, but he said he would make it more profitable for programs to make the playoffs than a bowl.

“Put $500 million in the bank and go to all the schools and pay them money as an option,” Cuban said. “Say, ‘Look, I’m going to give you X amount every five years. In exchange, you say if you’re picked for the playoff system, you’ll go.’ “

I’m tempted to brush this off with an “it’s so easy“, especially since it’s coming from the owner of a team which participates in a playoff format that’s about as far from college football’s postseason as you can get.  (The NBA is the poster child for what a meaningless regular season is all about.)  But Cuban by most accounts is a fairly shrewd man, so maybe it’s worth taking a closer look at what he’s throwing out.

And that’s the intriguing part of this.  For him, it’s a profit-oriented business move.

… Cuban, who is reading the book “Death to the BCS,” said he thinks it would take about three or four years of planning before enacting the playoff system. He believes it’s a better business opportunity than owning a baseball team, and he admits he’s intrigued by the idea of revolutionizing a major sport.

“It’s an inefficient business where there’s obviously a better way of doing it,” Cuban said. “The only thing that’s kept them from doing it is a lack of capital, which I can deal with.

“The one thing every college football fan wants you can probably create for less than it takes to buy a baseball team.”

I don’t think he’s saying that right, whether from ignorance or something else.  We don’t have a playoff due to lack of overall capital; rather, we don’t have one because of how capital is controlled and distributed.  So when Cuban assures us that he can deal with that, I’m not sure he knows what that entails.  The Big Six are likely to object to an even distribution of Cuban’s largesse with the mid-majors (especially if they’re worried about the impact of an extended playoff on the regular season cash flow).   No doubt the mid-majors will see things in a different light.  And that doesn’t even get into the issue of what vehicle will be used to distribute the money.

But here’s the thing:  taking Cuban at his word, to approach this as a profit-oriented venture means siding with the big conferences, because that’s where the viewership is right now.  (His stated concern for preserving the importance of the regular season should be a tip about where his sympathies lie in that regard.)  Going with the numbers from the charts above, Cuban isn’t going to pay a premium for Versus’ audience.  He would pay one for CBS’, though.

Which leads me to wonder if Dan Shanoff hasn’t stumbled on to something in this post.  While I think that his concept of an 8-team, 7-game, 3-week SEC-only playoff is stillborn, the idea of Cuban pitching a deal exclusively to the Big Six, whether by picking them off conference by conference or selling it to them as a whole, and offering a big new pot of money in return for a playoff… well, I can see the Slives and the Delanys of the college football world pondering that offer.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness

14 responses to “A rising Cuban lifts all boats.

  1. Mayor of Dawgtown

    The Plus-One Game answers 99% of the questions while keeping the bowls and maintaining the importance of the regular season (which is the way the top 4 teams would get into the Plus-One rotation). That’s the solution.


    • GreenDawg

      I do like the Plus-One system, but I feel like conferences like the Big “Ten” and Pac-“10” would have a fit over their bowl ties. They like to trick themselves into believing that the Rose Bowl is still the premier bowl game every year, no matter what.


    • + 1. For a Plus One.


  2. 69Dawg

    What is the SEC regular season but a playoff? I can’t see additional games of the number Shanoff is talking about. If the regular season is reduced to 11 games because of a playoff the teams not in the playoff are going to lose some big bucks from one less game.


  3. Ausdawg85

    8 teams, 7 games…so some early round-robin stuff.(?) Without pondering this, I imagine a 2 loss (or more) team could win the SECCG…and suddenly we look very watered down if everyone else stays in the BCS crowning undefeated and/or 1 loss teams.



  4. Macallanlover

    No question the +1 is the simplest idea to get people to buy into, and it is certainly going to get more people to feel the job has been accomplished. But like the current “system”, it falls short and will bring legitimate cries of foul. Why stop a step short when you can include all legit contenders and conferences with one more round? Four games mid-December, two games New Year’s Day, and the championship in mid-January. A Plus One will just be to revise again, because it is a half ass solution that does not allow enough inclusiveness. As much as we all realize the SEC is the best conference, it is not the only one that produces legitimate contenders. Decide it on the field.

    The only way the +1 accomplishes what is needed is if we adopt the Superconference concept with four winners and cut everyone else out. That is probably the most doable solution in the short-term, it would eliminate the polls, but it would require establishing an elite division of 64 teams. The problem is the NCAA has 120 D1 teams with equal votes. But then, we were one school away this summer from this happening.


    • Mac, based on D-1’s current configuration, an 8-team field will satisfy hardly anyone.

      The plus-one proponents, who are motivated by Auburn 2004 (the strongest argument for enlarging the playoff), find eight schools unnecessary. There are very few years where there are more than four legitimate MNC contenders.

      The auto bid for conference champs folks want a field that’s at least twelve and really more like sixteen.

      And eight teams won’t satisfy the bracket/Cinderella advocates who want a March Madness-style postseason.

      Essentially, eight under the status quo is little more than an invitation to grow the playoffs even larger, which is why people like me don’t favor it.


      • Macallanlover

        We will continue todisagree on this, eight teams is plenty, imo. I realize there are those that will not stop until we allow “all the kids in school to get a trophy” and have a 120 team playoff, but eight will work. Four is just too exclusionary to accomplish the goal of deciding it on the field. With 1-2 play-in games for non-AQ teams it would always be a great field.


        • Connor

          I think your desire for a 4 team and distaste for anything more highlights one of the under appreciated aspects of this debate. There are a lot of fans in favor of a playoff, probably more than 80% of them, at least, but they aren’t all in favor of the same playoff. It’s part of the reason that creep is inevitable. While you and others like you may be satisfied with 4 many other clearly won’t be. For those that want more, an expansion from 2 to 4 will only serve as evidence that change can be made and will embolden them to demand it.


          • Macallanlover

            It really isn’t to be disagreeable, I just think when you look at the objective, 4 teams (+1) doesn’t get us to the goal so expansion is mandatory as teams still have a legitimate complaint. 8 Teams does satisfy all legit contenders, has a workable timeframe, maximizes money, and leaves the current bowls intact.

            I understand that most years there may only be 3-5 really good teams but people in the Big10+ 2, etc., actually believe their champion is as viable as the SEC champ every year. Better to include them than listen to them whine. It’s about finding the sweet spot for inclusivity while maintaining exclusivity. I just don’t think another number accomplishes that. Just my opinion you know, but I hate to see us leave a solution on the table that works while going half way.

            I love this sport as much as anyone on the planet, but what we have done is just not satisfactory (pretty pathetic actually). After a hundred plus years, let’s fix the damn thing. A playoff is favored by a majority of the fans in polls I have seen but settling for the easiest option doesn’t make it the best choice.


            • Connor

              I’m drinking Macallan right now, so apologies if this comes off wrong. I agree entirely with your taste in scotch, but not with your desire for a playoff.
              What are the common complaints about the BCS? In no order: “Deserving teams are left out”, “The selection process is to subjective”, “It doesn’t settle the national title question on the field.” You may disagree, but I think they boil down to those 3. The problem is that every playoff proposal is fraught with the same problems. None of the proposals I have seen, 4, 8, 12, 16…. will really solve the problem, they’ll just set up new lines of demarcation for the argument. The fact is that college football as it currently exists can’t support a truly objective playoff and can’t execute any other kind without widespread dissaproval.
              This post is old so you probably won’t read this, but it’s not a big deal. In the grand scheme whether or not college football executes a playoff or not isn’t that big a deal, but is an interesting debate. Cheers.


              • Macallanlover

                First, a disclaimer: while I think having a playoff is the logical extension/culmination of the season, I was never active in pushing it until someone claimed a national title. That sets me off because there simply is no one entitled until that is earned…on the field. (Let’s face it, no system, playoff or politically contrived, insures the winner to be the “best”, only to claim the title “champion”. The inconsistency is no other sport does it the way CFB does.)

                The MNC talk intensified with the establisment of the BCS as many felt this was definitive. I am OK with everyone’s claims to their conference title, those are earned, but I don’t accept anyone’s claims beyond that. I feel it is a shortcoming, and it can be fixed. But if you are going to do it, do it right the first time. The current 2 team approach is clearly not enough, and I feel 4 teams is just one step closer, but one step short. More than eight is unnecessary, and too unwieldly due to logistics and timing.

                I respect your opinion that a playoff is a “nice to have”, not a “must have”, and I could agree until someone says that they are superior because they have “X” NCs, or have won one in the past 5 years, or a certain coach is superior because he has a MNC title on his belt. Beyond conference titles, no one has achieved anything other than to be “among the best” of that year.

                Like with single malts, there are differing viewpoints. Speaking of Macallan, the prices were rolled back substantially in recent months. Nice!


  5. Toom

    “The league and its partner, Cuban, will be printing money, satisfying existing SEC triumphalism and, frankly, crowning a champ with more legitimacy than any unbeaten team that comes out of the old BCS system.”

    Interesting and I learned a new word today … triumphalism. Captures the SEC’s superiority complex I would say.


  6. BulldogBen

    Keep beating that dead horse Senator.

    Must be tiresome defending the indefensible.