On the clock again

Really, I’m surprised that members of the pundit class have begun beating the drums for shortening the length of college football games so quickly after we heard some initial grumblings from the grand poobahs running the sport.  You’d almost think it’s about making deadlines or something as banal as getting enough sleep.

Two plays before Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson rolled to his right, scanned the field long enough to notice outside receiver Artavis Scott run into Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, clearing the out route and his expertly thrown pass for slot man Hunter Renfrow and the game-winning touchdown, I did something I consider quite lucky.

I woke up. Just in time to see college football history live. Just in time to see mighty Alabama fall and the underdog Tigers finally reach the sport’s mountaintop. Just in time to say I saw the end of one of the best games in big-time college football this season, and maybe ever.

Good news for a guy like me. Bad news for college football, though.

If you’re making the argument that maybe college football shouldn’t be showcasing its premier event during prime time on a Monday night, you’ll get no argument from me.  But assholes wanna get paid, and ESPN knows where the money is.

So if you’ve got that late start and you want to tuck yourself in before midnight, what’s left?  Blame the clock, of course.

… When too many kids have no hope of staying up the entire game — my 10-year-old and 7-year-old lasted until halftime — college football has an issue to address.

The games are too long. They’re too long for the players, too long for the fans and too long for the long-term growth of the sport.

ESPN and the College Football Playoff want the championship game to reach the point where viewership isn’t impacted by yearly matchups. They want it to be a mini-Super Bowl where it’s appointment television no matter who plays. How can that possibly happen when the dramatic Clemson-Alabama finish occurs after midnight Eastern on a Tuesday morning?

Jesus, is there any CFB-related crisis that can’t be reduced to think of the children?

What’s particularly irritating here is the effort to dress the problem up in fan-concern clothing.  The problem is that it doesn’t really sell.

Now, it’s debatable who really finds this to be a problem. Commissioners clearly do. So do reporters, who are more and more often pushing increased work on deadline than they did in the past. So do many fans at home, who don’t particularly want to block out four hours every week to make sure they are seeing their favorite college football team play. But when we’re talking about the fans who are paying more exorbitant fees to attend games, there naturally seems to be less angst over game times.

It’s a catch-22 in a way for college football, which doesn’t want to fundamentally change the game for the paying customer, but knows it ultimately has to do so to placate the television networks.

This is supposed to be troubling for fans who show up hours before a game to tailgate?  The only problem we’re feeling is the incessant breaks for commercials during games. And I do mean incessant.

The networks could cut down on their 30-second commercials (average of 68 per game). Who hasn’t attended a game when the fans and players are anxiously waiting for the restart but television isn’t ready? It’s particularly troubling with so many night kickoffs because fans have to drive home very late. Now, whether TV wants to reduce the number of commercials while rights fees continue to increase is another question.  [Emphasis added.]

When you’ve got 34 minutes of commercial time interrupting a 60-minute game, you’ve got an issue.  Unfortunately for us paying suckers… er, fans, the people who have a problem with game times are those who have a stake in making sure that kickoffs fall neatly into broadcasting schedules.  They’re also the exact same folks who have zero interest in reducing the number of commercial breaks.  So there’s that.

Now if you read both linked pieces, you’ll see a lot of the same solutions to the problem being pushed — shorter halftimes, no clock stoppage after first downs until late in each half, reduce reviews, etc. — most of which come from that bastion of giving the networks what they want, the NFL.  The problem with most of that is again, it’s a strategy of lopping off things that make the college game different, like halftime shows from school bands.  It’s also shortsighted in that college football has parity issues that the NFL doesn’t have; an inferior opponent that is challenging for an upset win may need that extra time from the stopped clock after a first down to mount a comeback.

But my real cynicism about the benefits from moves to reduce the amount of time the game gets played is that it’ll be perceived as creating a vacuum that ESPN and its ilk will be more than happy to fill with more commercial time as the opportunity presents itself.  And why not?  If this is all about making the game more attractive to a certain audience…

The alternative is games continue to creep longer and longer. That could result in casual fans (but likely not the die-hards) losing some interest.

… that is happier with a shorter overall broadcast time frame, it’s likely those are the same folks who won’t care much if the networks can jam seven or eight more of those 30-second pitches into the three-and-a-half hours allotted.

As for the rest of us, we’ll have to be satisfied with being sold on the concept that games with less content represent an enhancement of the sport.  Not that you’ll get a discount for that…

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24 Comments

Filed under College Football

24 responses to “On the clock again

  1. Mdcgtp

    I don’t know how much commercial time has changed, but as for the game itself, the cause for the longer games is the increase in the number of plays, replay stoppages, etc. Personally, I would watch a 4 hour game if it meant more replay getting things correct. i believe the technology exists to have remote crews watching video feed from every angle to get spots correct, pass interference, holding etc, but I digress.

    If you want to speed up the game, you have to slow it it down. i don’t know how one comes up with a solution that does not come with unintended consequences, but the issue is due to the pace/volume of play based offenses. More plays equates to more replays, penalties, incomplete passes, replay reviews, etc. Again, I am not sure how one addresses that. Perhaps, you give the defense “up to 5 seconds to substitute and allow for the defender leaving the field 5 seconds to leave the field”. That would take a big bite out of pace based strategy, which seems like the lesser evil than allowing for more running clock after a ball goes out of bounds.

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  2. Timphd

    In what was a classic game, it took over four hours to play as compared to 60 minutes of real play. The game wasn’t too long, the commercials were too long and too frequent. I know that ESPN will never concede their revenues, but the problem isn’t with the game itself. The only real change over time is the addition of replay reviews, and honestly, I would rather get the call right so I don’t complain too much with that though they could speed the process maybe. The game is great. Leave the game alone.

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  3. Bulldog Joe

    Rarely do I put in a good word for the NFL, but the Green Bay – Dallas game’s final two minutes (which included three scoring drives and multiple timeouts) played out with little to no commercial breaks.

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    • The NFL also has a specific number of commercials that can be played during each period, and I believe there are no commercials during either the last 2 minutes or during overtime.

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      • Russ

        Yesterday was the anniversary of the first Super Bowl. It was covered by both CBS and NBC. The game took 2 hours and 37 minutes.

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  4. 81Dog

    This discussion reminds me, in a lot of ways, when our wise masters in the law school decided that 1. You kids need to quit taking the bar exam in February of your 3rd year, because “it’s too much of a distraction” and 2. You kids need to be on semesters instead of quarters, because “it’s just better this way for you.”

    The first was BS because the wise masters didn’t care about us, they just cared that spring quarter for 3rd year was seen as a victory lap for those of us who had taken the bar, and the second was BS because they only cared that some of their precious conferences were geared toward semester schedules, so they might miss some May BS because, you know, they actually had to stay in Athens and keep teaching us.

    The no February bar rule was fine if someone had gotten hired by a big Atlanta firm that would throw a signing bonus at you while you studied for the October bar, and they needed the space to wine and dine “summer associates” anyway in the summertime. If you were a regular person who maybe needed to be able to start work before the spring after you (*&$^ graduate, maybe not so much.

    Everybody likes to pretend they’re doing it for your own good, but it’s usually THEIR own good. Just like this TV stuff. If they cared about the players, or the fans, or THE CHIRREN, they never would have started playing games in late prime time on Monday. Follow the money, which aint really trickling down to anyone but them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “But when we’re talking about the fans who are paying more exorbitant fees to attend games, there naturally seems to be less angst over game times.”

    This guy must not have ever sat in the south stands of Sanford Stadium for a noon start in September as the temperature climbs into the upper 90s with 75% humidity and listened to people complain about the guy in the red hat who comes out after what seems to be every stoppage of play. He must be talking to the ADs who only talk to the big donors who are behind the glass in their air-conditioned oasis with plentiful food and drink delivered to them with their own very clean bathrooms.

    Game times are a problem, and it’s not because of the number of plays, the number of replays, the length of quarters and halftime, or any other red herring the powers that be throw up there. It’s about the colleges’ capitulation to the money provided by television and its influence on the length of the game.

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    • Gaskilldawg

      I have said it before and I will say it again, the people who get paid to attend the games have a 100% different perspective than those of us who pay to attend the games.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. sniffer

    That could result in casual fans (but likely not the die-hards) losing some interest.

    I read that and realized I’m not a die-hard fan anymore. There were years after leaving school that UGA athletics were religion for me. Even living in pre-internet North Carolina in the 90’s, I followed me beloved Dawgs. My kids were dressed in red and black, they knew how to properly “bark”. I have walked into Williams Brice with the band because I didn’t have tickets and paid a guard at Bobby Dodd to let me and my wife in. With no seats, had to keep moving the entire game. My bona fides are impeccable. The peripheral issues of college football have dampened my interest. I still care. I don’t care as much anymore.

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  7. Atticus

    You think this will continue. Yes ESPN has to make their money. But the ratings should’ve been much higher they weren’t and weren’t close to the NFL. Guess what? The NFL plays on Saturdays and Sundays. Yes its about the kids because the kids……….become adults. Look at baseball, it’s irrelevant in many ways ratings wise and its because kids catch watch the late games anymore. Only diehards watch and you continue to have an eroding audience. Same thing will happen in college football, it already has begun as you see a lot of empty seats a all these scrub games.

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  8. Waterloodawg

    Does the game have to be shown in real time? Kickoff could be live. They could delay the game enough to know when long replays occur and play commercials during that time. The same could be done during halftime. Delay showing the last of the second quarter until real time halftime. Live kickoff again at the start of the second half. Seems this would cut 20 min easy.

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  9. SWGADAWG

    The problem is “game times” not game time. Coupled with the extra commercials the games end at ridiculous hours. You start late on a week night for ratings and of course the game ends after the kiddies are in bed. But let’s be honest, the kiddies aren’t the ones being coveted. It’s the $$$.
    I like long games. I like the late starts. (Gives me something to watch late Saturday night”).
    I know when I’m at a game I HATE TV timeouts. But at the house it’s nice to be able to hit the head without missing anything. And the problem is more about the stoppage for commercials than anything. But of course that only gets worse…..

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  10. JCDAWG83

    Like all things associated with college football, nothing will change until the revenue falls off. As long as the networks, whoever they may be, continue to pay millions (billions?) to the conferences and schools, the ADs won’t care if games start at 9:00 am or 11:00 pm. The reality is; the only reason the ADs, the conferences and the networks give any consideration to the fans is the abstract notion of the fan as a revenue generator. Only when the time comes that the fans loss of interest creates a tipping point where the fan decides the games are no longer entertaining enough to compensate for the aggravation of horrid kickoff times and never ending tv timeouts and the fans decide to spend their finite entertainment dollars elsewhere will the powers that be actually make any changes to the game time or length.

    Unfortunately for the programs and the networks, once the tipping point is reached and the fan’s interest wanes, there is really nothing that can be done to revitalize the fan’s interest. At some point in the future, college football will be remembered along with horse racing, professional bowling and baseball as a sport that was once widely followed but isn’t anymore.

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  11. Macallanlover

    “Reporters on deadline”? What period of history are you living in? Not sure what percentage of the media actually work for daily newspapers where deadlines still matter, or fans who rely on them for their sports news, 5%? 10%? Doesn’t matter which because the number is small, and getting smaller every month. We have about 10 dedicated sports channels, and dozens of regional affiliates, that are on 24/7. Now add news channels that also cover sports, and thousands of bloggers, and online sites reporting sports information and you wonder why that finish time is significant for them.

    The 34 minutes of commercial time per game actually equates to a significant reduction in commercial time when you consider prime time shows average about 20 minutes of commercials per hour. Of course the higher ratings offer the chance to get more dollars per minute for a championship game, and that seems the only way to reduce commercial time that would work. I actually thought there were more commercials than 68. Another thing, the actual time may not be that long if you take out the preliminary build-up portion that ABC does, seems like that delays the start around 20 minutes. Actual game rarely starts at the advertised time, especially the spotlight games.

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  12. Bright Idea

    Why not let the announcers read the commercials during the action? They’re just babbling about who should make the Final 4 anyway or pissing us off with stupid comments. Then we can really turn the sound down. Funny how this griping comes from those sitting at home and not those buying the tickets.

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  13. JD

    If they want to make it a mini super bowl then figure out how to have it on Sunday night at 6pm.

    Also, It’s a national championship game. People aren’t going to not watch just because the game lasts 4 hours rather than 3.5.

    It is indeed the game start time that is the problem. They’ve been complaining about the same thing for years and years about World Series games.

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    • Atticus

      Yes they have and look at the viewership of baseball compared to where it was 30 years ago. I agree start the games a little earlier. Unless you are a huge college football fan, people just won’t stay up until 12:30 watching Clemson vs Alabama or even Michigan vs FSU or whoever. Learn from the NFL.

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  14. Gaskilldawg

    These articles are written with zero insight as to the studio audience, er, sorry, paying fans in the seats.

    Reduce halftime to 12 minutes? No one writing that pays for seats in Sanford north stands lower deck. It is tough to get everyone who wants to go to the restroom and/or get concessions to make it up the aisles through the crowd, in and out of restrooms with one small door to accommodate both ingress and egress, stand in line while the Madison County middle school cheerleaders fiddle with concessions and back to their seats in 20 minutes. Cut halftime to 12 minutes and it will impact both those making that trip and those of us in our seats who will have fans in the aisles and walking in front of us on the row for the fist 8:00 minutes of the second half.

    The other suggestions boil down to “let’s reduce the number of plays Gaskilldawg pays to watch but let’s keep the dead time for commercials the same.”

    I would rather have the status quo rather than have any of the solutions advocated that do not include reducing commercial time.

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  15. Nick Saban

    We need to shorten the Championship game by about 10 seconds. But that’s it.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Maybe it is just my perspective, but those 34 minutes of commercials seem to be a hell of a lot more, on and on.

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  17. Mayor

    I record the games and start watching after giving the game about an hour head start, then fast forward through the commercials. It is amazing how much faster the game is when you do that. Try it. You’ll really have your eyes opened to the real problem about why the games take so long.

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