The general phase shift began in the late 1990’s. As ESPN and other cable sports networks began offering basic cable subscribers an increased number of viewing options for Saturday games, the start times for the broadcast match-ups began to gravitate from traditional early afternoon schedules, to being at the whim of the television gods.
Generally, a slight grumbling commenced from boosters and alums at the traditional powerhouses of the sport, as an occasional 3:30pm or 5:00pm start time were deemed unacceptable, especially to those donating their personal time and financial resources into attending a game, and assisting with maintaining the fiscal prosperity of the entire athletic department in the process. Yes, we support women’s fencing, through the brand of football.
Utilize warp speed capabilities to travel nearly two decades into the future and the system that started with a trickle of chaos and a few excess million dollars spread throughout the major conference, has grown to the current size of the GDP of a small nation, and with the emphasis on the end user rather than the actual game attendee. Out of the 130 members of the highest division of NCAA, or the FBS, virtually every weekly match-up between schools is available through broadcast or streaming platforms, either through the blessing provided by the plethora of cable networks or conference specific television entities, and of course at an extreme cost to the distinguished fan and the very future of live sporting events. In the brash new world of modern higher education gridiron action, the weekly scheduling for the entire slew of games rivals a disjointed dart throwing section in a musty and obscure corner of the New York Stock exchange, where ratings and the quest for continued advertising revenue are mixed with an ardent helping of regionalism and the obscure ingredient of forced tradition in baking an algorithm that defies logic. The immediate victims of this abomination are of course the season ticket holders, who in many cases do not know what television slot their team will be assigned to until a week before the game, and thus plans and the logistics of attendance, become tedious at the very least. In order to create primetime opportunities for sponsors, many networks also schedule late weekend and weeknight affairs, which only exacerbates the inconvenience for attendees, especially those on the West coast. Both scenarios harm attendance figures, and diminish the unique and vibrant atmosphere within the confines of the stadium, however the reality that college football is a high stakes and profitable enterprise and bigger than the fans and the players themselves is a tough pill to swallow. In the contemporary vicious cycle of television ratings equating to money pouring into athletic departments and squelching potential budget shortfalls, along with the residual magnitude of exposure for the institution, the board of regents cannot weigh the adverse consequences of the current system against the obvious benefits.
If alienating entire fan bases due to reckless scheduling constraints is a disturbing product of the financial infrastructure, only the fine folks at ESPN can take the retched charm of the stain from the corporate media down to an indelible and hypocritical level. The television network, which at one point catered to a broad expanse of sports fans, demands a certain level of accountability in the college football calendar and landscape, as content includes the broadcast of games on one end and the ability to editorialize the participants of the said games on the other. Last week, University of Washington head football coach Chris Petersen, questioned and criticized the scheduling parameters of the system prompted by and East coast bias, and of course was chastised by the correction mechanism of the system. Petersen, who is universally respected as one of the “good” guys of the college coaching ranks, and one of the most successful generals of architecting victories in the last 15 years, commented that the late start times for games on the West coast has multitudinous detrimental effects. “I just want to say something to our fans: we apologize for these late games. And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration,” Petersen told the AP. “We want to play at 1 p.m. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it. We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this season.” Washington is coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff and is currently ranked at number five in the latest polls.
Petersen’s ire towards the proclivity of West Coast teams to have to fight for the scraps afforded by the complex Pacific 12 conference relationships with television networks, set off a national firestorm of dialogue and debate, which culminated in the aforementioned ESPN, once again proclaiming that is a more important architect to current existence than God, in magically transforming the chemical composition of primordial ooze billions of years before civilization with Top-10 highlights, and giving life the evolutionary kick in the pants toward intelligence. In spawning a crusade for social justice or liberal guilt, the former palatable destination for nightly sports highlights has devolved into a mawkish mouthpiece for hypersensitivity and light years away from it’s humble beginnings as an obscure cable channel in focusing on the competitive aspect of the sporting world.
The stern and deplorable backlash from the Bristol, Connecticut based arm of the Disney universe began with college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit firing this tirade towards the Montlake cut. “As an advocate on this show for the Pac-12 for the last 20 years, wanting to try to bring as much exposure to that conference as we can, you should be thanking ESPN for actually having a relationship thanks to Larry Scott with the Pac-12 because now your games are seen,” the former Ohio State Buckeye stated. Ironically, it should be noted that when Washington hired Tyrone Willingham in 2004 as the head football coach, Herbstreit was adamant that the move would restore the reputation of the athletic department. Willingham never had a winning season in Seattle, and was fired after a dubious 0-12 record in 2008.
The audacity of Herbsreit as a self-proclaimed journalist to call out Petersen in such a tactless and garish way, while incorporating an ingrained memo into the statement from his bosses, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in this twisted narrative. During the Saturday broadcast of the California versus Washington game, which kicked off at around 7:50pm on the West Coast, the entire on air trio of Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, and Quint Kessenich, all participated in taking cheap shots towards Petersen and the 2017 non conference schedule of the UW football team. Much to the dismay of viewers, the broadcast of the 38-7 rout of California was overwrought with inclinations of criticism and arrogance, obviously perpetuated by the top brass in the network tower. At one point Jones went on to characterize the UW coach as, “inrascible and somewhat cantankerous,” prompting the notion that ESPN brought forth their pseudo-intellects behind the scenes to prompt an attack. Kessenich, also participated in the juvenile excuse for adult humor in presenting a trio of cupcakes to slam Washington’s out of conference schedule. What Kessenich and countless others fail to realize or accept is that college football schedules are built five or six years in advance and ripe with speculation.
So what is the end game to all this craziness? How are the true supporters of college football, who vote with their pocket books and support an institution, included next to the sea of money generated from advertisers? In twenty years will games be held in a converted stage and sound studio complete with the crowd and ambiance digitally beamed in from social networking locations to drapes of softscreen covering the walls and ceilings as the process of attending a game becomes unpalatable to the point of indifference? Or will a fine television network such as ESPN, be in such a state of intoxication from implied power and influence that the idea of sports will simply be a metaphor for indoctrination and the foundation for a massive hive mind, burning the brand of Disney onto the collective visual cortex of an audience too defeated to care? It seems that ESPN blatantly dropped in the ball in not only showing the true colors of a bureaucratic empire, but by discounting and admonishing a true role model for generations of young men. The new mantra out of Bristol is as follows, “If you’re white and you do things right, it’s not news.”