In the wake of what’s being declared a disastrous postseason for college football, any number of reasons have been offered to explain the decline in television ratings.
Plenty of factors intersected to hurt interest in the games, not the least of which being that the semifinals started while a good percentage of Americans were still on the clock and conflicted with New Year’s Eve festivities. Frankly, I don’t give a solitary damn about what kind of number these games did. Unless you own a substantial chunk of Disney stock, I don’t know why you would, either.
The Worldwide Leader will have to figure out how to get its nut, or it will just live for a few more years with knowing that it cut crappy deals to monopolize bowl season. (Ironically, ESPN’s rich contracts with the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl don’t give the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten much reason throw their sugar daddy a bone to accommodate the playoff.)
When the games are played, whether they coincide with the release of a new Stars Wars flick and so on all pose short-term problems with easily manageable solutions. No matter how bad the ratings look now, those issues are fixable.
However, Senator Blutarsky poses a grander hypothesis that should be far more concerning to conference commissioners: Maybe this is it for college football.
Oh sure, with regard to the playoff, you can move the games to more convenient times. You can shorten the break between the semis and the final. You can pray for more attractive match-ups and more competitive contests.
Those steps might help optimize the playoff’s payoff. In a larger sense, though, you can’t change what college football fundamentally is.
College football has always been a regional, if not a local, game. The sport thrives because of its roots in communities and cultures.
The promise of more money from FOX and ESPN has left college football’s shot-callers pursuing broad-based, national business strategies to court larger audiences and “grow the game,” whatever that means. It’s why we’re seeing conference networks and realignment.
A playoff is consistent with that orientation towards mass consumption. Yet, college football isn’t the NFL, and it never will be.
Every single eyeball in Birmingham might be glued to the TV when the Crimson Tide and Tigers are playing. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that Vinnie from Parsippany and Sully from South Boston will ever truly get invested in a game between teams from Alabama and South Carolina, even if they’re playing for the national championship.
So what if the sport’s incessant push for more viewers and greater revenue streams has nowhere left to go? Jim Delany, Larry Scott, et al. might want to at least consider that possibility as they ponder college football’s future.