Category Archives: College Football

“We’re a failed business model by nature.”

Boy, you ain’t kidding about that, Mister anonymous prominent Power Five athletic director.

Thank Gawd they’ve got geniuses like Larry Scott and Bob Bowlsby to cover for them.

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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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Little Johnny Redshirt

Here’s an AFCA proposal that actually makes sense.

In an announcement Wednesday, AFCA executive director Todd Berry said a proposal has been developed that would allow a player to be given redshirt so long as he’s played in four games or less in a season. Those four games could come at anytime — beginning of the season, middle or end — so long as he “doesn’t play again for any reason that season.”

The proposal would eliminate medical redshirts and their subjective nature. Under the proposal, whether a student-athletes plays in four games or does not, the timetable of five years to play four seasons would remain intact.

Hard to argue with that, although Berry has to overplay his cards for some reason with this:

“Little Johnny, he’s not ready to play. But Little Johnny’s mom and dad are in the stands. Every data point says when a kid is engaged in football during his collegiate years, the better he does academically, the better he does socially,” Berry told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.

“You got a chance to put Little Johnny out there at the close of a ballgame. So what? That shouldn’t burn his eligibility. If Little Johnny goes out and doesn’t play in the first five games because he wasn’t ready to play and then all the sudden you stick him out there in the sixth game of the season and he tears his knee up and is gone for the season, he’s burned his eligibility. That is not fair to Little Johnny.”

Sigh.  Are these guys so insecure that they have to pollute every proposal with a “do it for the kids”?

In any event, greater flexibility and less hypocrisy adds up to a win-win in my book.  Which means it’ll probably get chewed over by a couple of NCAA committees for the next two years and never come to fruition.  That’s a real shame for Little Johnny and his folks.

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They strenuously object.

No doubt ESPN will take this under advisement.

AFCA executive director Todd Berry said FBS coaches are in “complete condemnation of Friday night games” and they will “push the powers that be in college football to leave that night sacred for high school football.”

*************************************************************************

UPDATE:  And, today, in bullshit.

Student-athlete welfare?  Uh, riiiight.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

A stats geek takes a hammer to conference championship games.

I’m not advocating here, but Nate Silver makes an interesting argument with this post.  If the lesson to be learned from this season is that the CFP selection committee isn’t swayed by conference championship game appearances, maybe we should blow those up and come up with another way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

My point is simply this: Conference championships, as currently devised, don’t make much sense. Because of imbalanced divisions, championship games often don’t pit the two best teams in a conference against each other (Big Ten championship participant Wisconsin was probably the fourth-best team in its league, for instance). They’ll sometimes result in an awkward rematch of a game that was already played during the regular season. And conference championship games waste a weekend that could be better spent on something else, such as expanding the College Football Playoff to six or eight teams.

And now we have pretty good evidence that the playoff selection committee doesn’t really care one way or another. So let’s get rid of them! Imagine a world in which we’re spared the annual indignation of having to watch Florida lose to Alabama 59-2. Imagine a world in which historical rivals always play each other every year and yet, by almighty Rockne, the best teams in a conference always play one another, too. Imagine a world with no divisions. By which I mean: a world in which we eliminate divisions such as the ACC’s perplexingly named Atlantic and Coastal divisions, and all teams within the same college football conference compete as one.

His solution comes out of high school debatedom and a concept known as power pairing.  You can read about it all in depth in his piece.

Again, I’m not advocating here.  But I do recognize that college football is doing its damnedest these days to minimize the importance of conference play.  (That’s my second shout out to Bob Bowlsby’s conference in one morning.  Well played, sir.)  So maybe it’s time for a little out of the box thinking to see if things can be salvaged before it’s too late.

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“But I firmly believe we have to shorten games for the good of the game.”

Oh, noes!  College football is about to embroil itself in another existential crisis over game time.

Perhaps it was fitting that the first college football game of 2016, between Cal and Hawaii, lasted almost four hours.

It was a harbinger of the coming season, in which the average game time was the longest in college football history at 3 hours, 24 minutes. That was much too long for a number of people.

“I would like to see shorter games,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said.

Scott is not alone. He is among a number of conference commissioners and head coaches who told ESPN they believe games have become too long.

The biggest challenge, however, is determining how to shorten the games.

Yeah, that’s gonna go well.

If you need a hint on how they’re about to fuck things up yet again, consider that there are more than a thousand written words in that article without a single mention of television commercials.

It’s amazing how much I can simultaneously love college football and despise the assholes running the sport.  Multi-tasking, for the win…

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Maybe that business model isn’t quite dead yet.

You keep asking why ESPN shells out the big bucks for college football.  ESPN sees the answer in numbers like this:

Consider the St. Petersburg Bowl (formerly the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl) that took place at 11 a.m. Eastern in St. Petersburg, Fla., on the Monday after Christmas. The setting was Tropicana Field, a baseball stadium that holds more than 40,000 fans. The game drew only 15,717 attendees and ended with 6-7 losing records for both Mississippi State and Miami of Ohio.

However, it garnered 2.045 million viewers for ESPN, which is close to what Comcast’s CMCSA, +0.40%  NBC managed for a rerun of “Hairspray Live” (2.45 million viewers) that night. Yes, a terrible bowl game that started at 8 a.m. on the West Coast put in a better prime-time performance than network shows that actually aired in prime time.

This wasn’t an anomaly, either. Between Dec. 17 and 26 — well before the college football playoffs — only one bowl game that ESPN and its Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.06%  sibling networks ABC, ESPN2 and ESPNU aired failed to draw 1 million viewers.

We’re junkies.  It’s that simple.

What’s more interesting is that, for once, the NCAA and schools may be taking note of our addiction and reacting to it in real time.

… An audit of the 2012-2013 college bowl season by the NCAA found that 35 bowls gave out $300.8 million to conferences, while individual schools reported spending $90.3 million on bowl trips.

The NCAA report found that bowls received $445.6 million in gross receipts and spent 26% of that sum on operating expenses, keeping only 7% of the total. However, schools participating in bowls ate $12.1 million in unsold tickets, for an average of $173,479 in losses per team. While big-conference schools with major athletic revenue can take that hit — especially if they’re playing in one of the premier bowl games — it’s tougher for schools with less sports income to cover those costs. Unfortunately, it’s those schools that end up playing in lower-tier regional bowls.

However, starting in 2015, the NCAA began arguing that the new playoff system now functions as a sort of revenue-sharing model that helps take pressure off of the small-conference teams and the lesser bowls. That year, after receiving reports from the 39 post-season bowl games and the schools that took part in them, it was determined that the bowls distributed $505.9 million to participating conferences and schools. The schools, meanwhile, spent $100.2 million to take part in bowl games. The NCAA presented this as a net profit of $405.7 million. While there’s little evidence that any of the above makes it easier for smaller schools to travel to and participate in lower-tier bowls, it gave ESPN the go-ahead to streamline the process a bit.

Of ESPN Events’ 13 bowls, five — New Mexico, Bahamas, Boca Raton, Idaho and Camellia — pay out less than $500,000 per team, which is divided among all schools in that team’s conference. Only four of its bowls — Texas, Celebration, Las Vegas and Birmingham — pay out $1 million or more, and Birmingham only pays that to one team from the Southeastern Conference.

In other words, the economic structure of the postseason is shifting from focusing on asses in the seats to eyeballs on the tube.  ESPN is more than happy to bring that change of course to fruition, naturally, because that’s how Mickey gets paid.  And if the small fry don’t like it, tough shit.  They’re not where the money is.

However, if that number seems a little light, it’s likely because ESPN is paying a whole lot more for rights to the bigger college bowl games. It paid $7.2 billion for exclusive rights to college football’s playoffs through 2026. It pays another $80 million a year through 2026 for the Rose Bowl alone and billions more in deals with college football’s Atlantic Coast Conference ($3.6 billion), Southeast Conference ($2.3 billion), Big 12 ($2.5 billion), PAC-12 ($3 billion) and Big 10 (nearly $1.2 billion). Why pay so much for college football in particular, you ask? Because it’s one of the last safe bets.

In 2015, NFL games accounted for all of the top 25 broadcasts and 46 of the top 50. One of those outliers was a Michigan State-Alabama football playoff game shown by ESPN. That said, ESPN faces a whole lot of competition for those properties, with Fox paying for the other half of Big 10 rights, its pick of games and the rights to the Big 10 championship. But ESPN knows its future lies in the rights to live sports broadcasts, and it’s loading up on them no matter the cost to the rest of its programming.

In the short run, you might welcome that.  After all, are Keith Olbermann, Rachel Nichols, Jason Whitlock, Skip Bayless and Bill Simmons going to be missed?

But the next thing to consider is what happens when ESPN turns that same logic towards college football’s regular season.  The conferences and schools can mumble all they want about preserving the live fan experience, but money talks and the loudest money comes from their broadcast partners.  Just ask the NFL.

Sports attendance has been either flat or falling for much of the past decade, even as live sporting events continue to outperform other broadcast or streamed entertainment. After nearly having to take three playoff games off television in 2014 thanks to its blackout rule requiring 100% attendance, the National Football League owners began phasing out attendance-based blackouts team by team in 2014 before shelving them altogether in 2015. With total revenue of more than $10 billion — including $1 billion a year apiece in broadcast rights from NBC, CBS CBS, -0.40%  and Fox through 2022 and $1.5 billion a year from AT&T-owned T, -0.28%  NFL Sunday Ticket provider DirecTV, also through 2022 — the NFL and its owners are beginning to realize that attendance is becoming a smaller part of the game-day equation.

It’s just one more reason to acknowledge that the game as we know it is slipping away from us in its current form and there’s not much we can do about that, because we’re a part of the problem.  In other words, enjoy it while you’ve got it.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness