Category Archives: College Football

“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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Filed under College Football

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

The best game of the season was meaningless.

Man, if you missed watching last night’s Rose Bowl, I feel sorry for you.  It was simply as entertaining a game as I’ve seen all season.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a game with bigger momentum changes.  This’ll give you some idea of what I’m talking about.

But even that doesn’t totally do it justice.  Three of those Penn State touchdowns scored on a total of three plays — not three series, three straight plays. Crazy stuff.

Southern Cal went from leading by thirteen points to trailing by fourteen, looked like it was reeling and then righted itself to run off seventeen unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including the game winning field goal as the clock expired.

Just wild.  And I loved every minute of it.

Plus, this.

Like I said, you should have been there.

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“For years, the NCAA longed to build a football playoff system for one simple reason: money.”

My, what a fine anti-playoff screed John U. Bacon delivers here.  (Although I can’t figure out what Mark Emmert has to do with the CFP.)  Actually, it’s more of an anti-college football management screed, when you get down to it.

First, they quadrupled the number of bowl games, from 11 to 41, which require 82 teams to fill them. Now just about any team with a winning record gets to go.

Then they tacked on a twelfth regular season game, when schools play “tomato cans” like McNeese State, Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman, all just to grab another payday.

Then they piled on conference title games, too, increasing the total games a team can play from 11 to 14 — just two shy of an NFL season.

But we need a playoff now, they told us, to determine who’s best on the field. How? Instead of picking two teams based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings, now they pick four teams — based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings. Problem solved. Instead of the third-ranked team complaining that it got screwed, now the fifth-place team does all the whining. Another problem solved.

Remember, it’s all for us fans.  Just ask Bill Hancock.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

Today, in bowl season news

This header absolutely RULES.

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Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple

The most Georgia play of bowl season

Really, this gave me a real sense of déjà vu to watch, from last night’s Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and Wyoming:

Just like you draw it up.

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“The athletes are not a property of the university.”

Good piece from Pete Thamel exploring the decision of players like Fournette and McCaffrey to pass on playing in bowl games in an era when there doesn’t seem to be an end to expanding the pool.  And why is that?  C’mon, you know why.

That corporate sprawl offered another reminder—if you needed one—just how much cash is at stake. There’s a reason ESPN televises 38 of the 41 games and owns and operates 13 of them. There’s a reason that 27 of the 41 bowl games didn’t exist 30 years ago.

In a suite high above FAU Stadium during the second quarter, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco recalled his time as an executive at CBS when they televised an Indiana-Butler game in 2012 that ended in an overtime upset of the No. 1 Hoosiers. Aresco was thrilled until he saw the Gildan New Mexico Bowl—between Arizona and Nevada—crush it in the ratings by 1.9 to 1.5. “That’s when I realized,” he said, “football had become king.”

If you’re ESPN, December is berry, berry good to you.

But bowl games have undeniably become the December background noise at your company holiday party, your December treadmill sprints and those cold nights when the Potato Bowl is more comforting than leaving the couch. Americans like watching football, as evidence by the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl—between non-traditional powers Baylor and North Carolina—doing the same rating (2.6) as the top-rated regular season college basketball (UNC-Duke) last year. The December bowl orgy is annually one of the most flush ratings runs for ESPN every year…

Forget school spirit.  What about us couch potatoes on a cold weekday night needing the kind of fix only the Boca Raton Bowl can provide?

So, remember, kids — at least those rare and few of you gifted enough to have a chance to play on Sundays while being relegated to a lower-tier exhibition game for one last hurrah — if you’re not motivated to stick around for your teammates and dear old U, do it for all the college football junkies out there.  Otherwise, we’ll be stuck watching meaningless regular season college basketball games.  The horror!

ESPN and its advertisers are counting on you.  Don’t let them down.

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