What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Don Ohlmeyer passed away the other day. You may not recognize that name, but if you’re a sports fan, you are very familiar with his work. The list is too long to mention here, but the one that matters for purposes of this conversation is Ohlmeyer was one of the driving forces behind breaking pro football out of the confines of being strictly a Sunday afternoon affair. When he was part of the team that brought us Monday Night Football in 1970, the sports world changed forever. Once that world saw the Valhalla of prime-time television, the die was cast for a whole new dimension in the marriage of sports and television.
Given that landmark event was almost 50 years ago, that aforementioned marriage has solidified into a symbiotic relationship which with the advent of cable/satellite/streaming now knows no boundaries for how far down the sports food chain it can trickle. When Monday Night Football first hit the airwaves, Kent State was known mostly for being the site of a Vietnam War protest in which four people died. Now, the Golden Flashes and the rest of their Mid-America Conference brethren are going to fill every other night besides Monday with “Group of Five” football.
It’s a move that make perfect sense if you think about it. Football, be it college or professional, is the demand sport for American television as we know it today. The NFL mushroomed out it’s TV footprint to include prime-time games on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. College football is dabbling in Thursday and Friday nights, and owns Saturday wall-to-wall. That leaves Tuesday and Wednesday nights as the football prom-night wallflowers.
Let’s take that “college football as a high school prom” analogy one step further. Remember that guy in high school who drove a Camaro and got more ass than a thermometer at a county hospital? That’s the top half of the “Power 5” conferences. Saturday between 3 and 10 p.m. eastern time is the big-titted, blond cheerleader and she’s all for them; Alabama does not need Wednesday night for anything. But if you’re named Norman and you’re a clarinet player with pimples, the only time you can get anything from Brittany the Cheerleader is when she needs to pass her next math test or she can’t go to Spirit Camp. The trouble is that Camaro Guy and Norman are fueled by the same hormones, but poor Norm doesn’t spend every Saturday getting blown by the “Brittany of the Week.”
That means if Saturday is the “smoking hot” cheerleader, Tuesday night is the oboe player named Elizabeth who sits next to Norman in the concert band. Sure, she has lenses in her glasses which came straight off the Hubble Space Telescope and she smells of ear salve, but underneath her “Grandma” sweater there’s a set of boobs which give ol’ Norm a boner you could use as a first-down marker.
In other words, the MAC is “Norman,” and Tuesday night looks as good as Tuesday Weld to him.
Let’s cut through the crap here. This is all about money. In 2014, the MAC and ESPN agreed to a 13-year contract in 2014 which nets the MAC about $10 million per year. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I think ESPN might an be an organization trying to kill itself in heretofore unknown ways, but it’s embrace of college football is the one thing they got right. If it weren’t for college football, the World Wide Bottom Feeder wouldn’t exist in my media package.
That’s where they have me by the short-and-curlies. College football is by far the best sport we have in this country today; I’m an old-school baseball purist and as much as I love America’s Past-Time, I’m afraid it’s getting ready to do some of the same stupid shit the NFL did…but that’s for another time.
October is one of the greatest months on the calendar for sports. You have post-season baseball, the NFL season is starting to shape up, and everybody in college football is deep into their conference schedules. But what happens once the World Series is over? All of a sudden, my Tuesday and Wednesday nights are a sporting black-hole. Don’t get me wrong, I love basketball and hockey as well. I’m an all-around fan of sports, but November can be rough. But the NBA and the NHL pre-seasons and early regular seasons can be as interesting as a three-hour conference call.
So given all that, why wouldn’t the MAC jump on those nights? I know that somewhere by now, some hunyuk in something like the Ball State JizzRag wrote some cry-baby shit about how this completely fucks up the “college football Saturday tradition.” I can see it now…all I have to do is picture the same guy who used to write for my college paper lo those many years ago. Somewhere in MAC Nation some keyboard-cleverissimo with more chins than a Shanghai phone book rolling out the shop-worn tomes about “the student experience,” how mid-week games “take players out of class,” or noise about “alienating fans and boosters.”
Those arguments are milk which had an expiration date of about 1986. It’s time to admit that even smaller-school college is big business. The allure of television trumps all that stuff.
The first attraction is obvious; money. Every MAC school is netting over $10 million over the life of that contract. You aren’t getting from the gate on even the best of Saturdays.
Second, can we finally get over this non-sense about the “student-athlete?” Granted, there are a lot of people who honestly take advantage of athletic scholarships to get an education. But even at the “Group of Five” level, there are plenty who are just about football. That became the case when the MAC started putting players in the NFL. Did you watch last week’s Thursday NFL game between the Chiefs and the Patriots? Did you hear how many time the University of Toledo got mentioned as it’s alum Kareem Hunt rolled through the defending Super Bowl champion’s defense like the Red Army through Berlin in 1945?
That brings us to the last point. I addressed the fan issue in the first one. You simply can’t sell enough tickets to compete with $10 million a year falling from the ESPN satellites. Boosters are a different animal. How many alumni of MAC schools stayed in those mid-western college towns? A major part of your booster community are the alumni, and very few of them stayed in places like Ypsilanti, Michigan or Muncie, Indiana. That’s why Homecoming exists, and that’s also why getting your school’s games on TV matters. If you’re a Toledo grad who now lives and works in the heart of SEC Country, don’t tell me that guy doesn’t love an opportunity to fly his colors, even if it has to be a college football Wednesday. And again, don’t try to tell me that Toledo guy didn’t love flying his Rockets colors after Kareem Hunt’s display last Thursday.
Selling out every 30,000 seat stadium in the MAC every single Saturday just doesn’t pack the punch that television brings. On top what I just mentioned, there’s no doubting what this exposure does for the brand of the conference as a whole, not to mention it jumps the recruiting power of the individual schools.
Now, I understand that some people might think that putting every single conference game after Halloween on the “off-nights;” not one MAC team plays a Saturday game after October 26th. But if you’re making this move to boost your exposure, why not go all in? I’m sure some of these lower-end games (Buffalo at Ball State…I’m looking at you) might struggle to get 100,000 nationwide viewers on ESPN Ocho, but there are shows on cable-news networks that get about that level of viewership and still manage to sell ad time.
Again, that’s what this all comes down to. ESPN has it’s myriad of channels because they all generate advertising revenue. ESPN backed the creation of the glut of bowl games which fill up the last half of December so it can fill those channels, so why wouldn’t it partner with a conference eager to get out from under the shadow of the “Power 5?”
Is the MAC great football? It doesn’t have to be; it just needs to be good enough. McDonald’s isn’t haute cuisine, but its classic “comfort food.” When the calendar turns to November, the days get shorter and the nights get colder, I get a powerful hankering for “comfort food.” I can’t have filet mignon every night, but no matter where I go or what I do, I can always get a Big MAC.