I say this as someone with virtually no responsibilities on the weekend. And also with the self-awareness that these are, unquestionably, completely frivolous concerns. The epitome of the now over-used meme “white people problems”. But frankly, I don’t give a sh!t (and yes, I can appreciate the irony of explicitly stating my indifference while censoring my curse word). Because the recent trend to move all worthwhile college football games to the prime time hour is completely and utterly diminishing our Fall Saturdays.
If we’re judging by this season, and most specifically this weekend, we know longer have games of national relevance air during the day. They’re all at night. It seems like over the past five years college football has morphed into the NBA, but even The Association has the good sense to put prominent match-ups on national television during weekend afternoons once the NFL season ends. College football seems to lack the same insight.
Or maybe they don’t. Nielsen ratings suggest – archaic, flawed yet all-determining Nielsen ratings – that more people tune into these games at night than they do during the day. Since everyone is forced to measure the size of a viewing audience by a couple thousand people scatter-shot throughout the country, nothing is going to change anytime soon. But I don’t care about college football as a business, I care about it as an event, and how well-appointed it can be to best accommodate its millions of fans. You know, the 99.9% of us that don’t have Nielsen boxes.
As an OSU fan, each of the past four Sundays: You watch your team play at noon, either on TV at home, in a bar, or at the stadium itself; then you find a TV or flip through the TV you’re already on, just assuming there will be a game worth watching because, hey, it’s college football. Certainly there has to be a game worth tuning into at all times on a football Saturday. But no, you come to find that your best option is a top-ten team playing some mid-major pushover, so your options are to either keep drinking absent of college football’s presence in your day, watch some crummy game just to say you’re watching any game, or go take a nap. It’s bizarre how commonplace this has become.
Even the NFL hasn’t sold out this hard for ratings or revenue. In fact, as far as scheduling is concerned, they’ve done just the opposite. As opposed to scheduling games throughout Sunday as to ensure less competition between various installments of their own product, they’ve kept 90% of their games cluttered into the same time slots (1PM and 4PM, respectively). It’s decidedly anti-NFL, which is why it’s mostly a good thing and something I would expect out of the college ranks. As much as we might like to bag on the totalitarian nature of Goodell’s comically authoritarian approach, with the exception of moving a single game to Thursday nights, they’ve spared us this much.
College football has been slowly progressing towards this, and at the start of the movement, I admittedly enjoyed the change. The Big Ten, my beloved Ohio State’s currently beleaguered football conference, used to never play night games. In fact, virtually no one did. ABC used to run replays of horrendous scripted dramas and movies everyone had already seen five times in lieu of college football. I was ecstatic when it became boiler-plate for each Big Ten team to have one home night game a year, even if it seemed like Ohio State was every other team’s opponent of choice.
This was precipitated by the move from ABC to schedule a “game of the week” of sorts on Saturday nights. Once that happened, the floodgates opened. ESPN has contracts with virtually every conference to televise any number of games at the same time across their ever-expanding series of networks. FOX now has a night game, even semi-obscure niche cable channels like FX and Outdoor Network now televise college football, and are more than happy to have college games to throw on the air. Once Texas gets their OWN network in full swing, who knows if the Longhorns will ever play another game before 8PM.
This trend had gone from welcomed change about seven years ago, to subtle shift, to mild annoyance and finally culminated in full-on inconvenience last year, and this season seems to be doubling down on it. At least last year the NCAA scheduling committee, or whoever is responsible for these decisions (soo well-informed) would throw us a few bones. This season? We’re four weeks into it, and not a single marquee game between two ranked teams has been played during daylight hours. It has come to a head this week with: Arizona State-Oregon, Oklahoma-Kansas State, Clemson-Florida State & Notre Dame-Michigan, none of which start before 7PM EST. Does it not stand to reason that by clustering all these games into the same five hours (Arizona State starts at 10PM because west coast), the sport will lose more overall viewers over the course of the day, despite how many they might gain for the single game?
This isn’t to say there will never be any good afternoon games. As I write this, I’m watching South Carolina host Missouri, and it could very well turn into one for the ages. Neither the NCAA nor the any conference can ensure every eventful contest will take place under artificial lighting, but they’re certainly not counting on Missouri to make much of a contest out of it. The goal, and the only goal now, is to schedule as many relevant night games as possible throughout the season, then hope yours ends up in the ABC prime time slot. It’s college football’s answer to The Hunger Games. And just like the Hunger Games themselves in the young adult novel, college football’s new emphasis on scheduling in prime time serves no purpose and is entirely avoidable. By this point I’ve flipped off all college football entirely, opting for The Big Lebowski. This isn’t supposed to happen. As for later in the evening, even if I am just hanging out in my house on a Saturday night like I am tonight, I can still only watch one game at a time as I imagine is the case with most people, and it’s counter-productive. There are enough ardent fans of college football that we’d like the opportunity to do so. Or, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing this season: Watching Ohio State play and more or less ignoring the rest of it. Life’s too short to watch Michigan being waxed by Alabama on the few evenings I have available.