Sunday, October 23, 2011

Any Given Saturdays Must Be Eliminated for The Good of the TV Contract

There were a couple of big upsets in college football yesterday. Oklahoma lost to Texas Tech and Michigan State beat Wisconsin. Both games were thrilling, Michigan State winning on a Hail Mary. Both games were on ESPN networks, too. Huzzahs all-around at Walt Disney Co.!

Or so you'd think, and you'd be incorrect. This morning, a rerun of ESPN's college wrapup show revealed that horrendous commentators Mark May and Lou Holtz were VERY disappointed in the beaten favorites. Praise for the gallant underdogs was perfunctory. Condemnation of the teams that, according to ESPN and several polls, SHOULD have won was heartfelt and lengthy.

Holtz, May and the host whose name I have no intention of catching then went on to the subject that really warmed their hearts, the upcoming game between undefeated teams LSU and Alabama on November 5. Let two weeks of hype begin, hype that seemed very odd from a business perspective as ESPN won't be showing that tilt. It'll be on CBS, directly opposite ESPN's nine game broadcasts that afternoon.

Logic, even the logic of profit and loss, is as much a stranger to college football as honesty. Holtz and May, products of a system they'll never be able to view from the outside, gave a splendid example of the mindset that has made their sport what it is -- ugly graffiti on the walls of civilized society, an insult to the ideals of sports and indeed of the United States of America.

Any sports enterprise where upsets are seen as bad for business should be regarded with the utmost suspicion. As May and Holtz demonstrated, that's just where FBS college football is right now. Despite years and years of evidence that upsets are good for sports business, here's a game where there's an institutional bias in favor of overdogs.

The phrase "should win out" is the one most often blatted by college football commentators each and every weekend. That's not-so-subconscious pulling for the chalk to win every contest. It's particularly weird when uttered, as it often is, in like the second week of the season. The cynical might think this is because many college commentators (and coaches and writers who vote in the polls) just want the season to validate their preseason opinions. They'd be right, but they also wouldn't be cynical enough.

Try as I might, I can think of only one other sports/entertainment enterprise where favorites are supposed to rule, where the top competitors are only allowed to lose to each other and where procedures are bent on a consistent basis to make sure that happens. That would be pro wrestling, which even its fans know is an enjoyable racket and nothing more.

That's all big college football is, too. It's a rigged system to allow a small minority of college athletic departments to rake off major dough from television networks. It's entertaining as can be, but sports as defined by "honest competition to determine an outcome" it isn't. If the demented scramble among schools to find the most lucrative bucket shop, er, BCS conference that'll have 'em doesn't prove that to the sports' audience, nothing will.

I can understand and sympathize with fans of individual big power schools. Rooting for Alabama, Ohio State, etc. is a natural organic fan experience. Rooting for the system in which these teams operate, however, baffles me. Many fans and commentators do. They prefer a system in which their own interests (a playoff and paying athletes openly could only benefit the sport as a fan experience) finish well below Iowa State in the standings every year.

But then, that's how rackets get rich. They convince the suckers being cheated is in their own best interests.


At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Thomas Gamble said...

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