At 8 p.m. Saturday night, every broadcast network was showing college football. NBC had Notre Dame/Purdue, Fox had UCLA/Texas, ABC had Tennessee/Oklahoma and, thanks to a weather delay, CBS had Georgia/South Carolina.
At noon, the only game on broadcast was Ohio State beating Kent State 66-0.
A week prior, the four best games of the day – Notre Dame/Michigan, Michigan State/Oregon, Virginia Tech/Ohio State and BYU/Texas – all kicked off between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
A week prior, the only game on broadcast at noon was Penn State beating Akron in a snoozefest.
The proliferation of college football on television should be a good thing for fans. With the exception of the non-existent Pac-12 Network, I have access to quite literally every single college football game being played on Saturday. There are times when I have 13 games on various channels. I should be celebrating and writing 1,000-word sonnets to our glorious television overlords for blessing us with so much football.
Instead, my remote may explode.
At the risk of sounding like a cranky out-of-touch thirty-something, it didn’t always used to be like this. For the duration of the 1990’s, the biggest games of the day almost always kicked off at noon. Those classic Florida State/Miami and Florida State/Florida games were usually ticketed for a noon start on ABC. Even when CBS jumped back into the fray in the mid-1990’s with the Big East and SEC, they tended to put the bigger game at noon – think back to the classic Miami/Florida State game from 2000 and how it ended by mid-afternoon.
This trend continued up until 2005 – that year, ABC only aired four games in primetime and CBS only aired two. Then in 2006, ABC unleashed its Saturday Night Football franchise at the exact perfect time, as DVRs and time-shifted viewing started to put an overwhelming amount of emphasis on live sports.
Suddenly, ABC was actually drawing viewers on the death slot that was Saturday nights and it was only a matter of time before the party was joined. In recent years, Notre Dame has played two night games a year – up from zero. Fox has jumped in a weekly primetime game. And these are just the broadcast channels.
The struggle in college football has come down to exposure versus money. For years, the Big Ten dominated the noon time slot. With the advent of the Big Ten Network, the number of noon Big Ten games on ESPN and ESPN2 dwindled. The new network also included more primetime games for the conference – a rarity for the tradition-beholden Big Ten.
In that span, the noon slots were taken over by the improving SEC and the conference clearly benefited from the exposure and lack of competition. However, their desire for money was equal to that of the Big Ten’s and this year, the SEC Network has entered the fray.
Let’s not forget to mention the arrival of Fox Sports 1, the growing CBS Sports Network and the overwhelming influence of ESPN’s stable of channels – even ESPNews is now showing games all day on Saturdays.
All of these networks, like their broadcast counterparts, have been unable to resist the pull of moving their best games to primetime in an effort to woo viewers and reel in advertisers. These past two weeks give us a great indication how this migration to primetime is hurting the sport at large while helping the bottom line.
On Sept. 6, BYU/Texas was a primetime game on Fox Sports 1. While this was probably good for Texas due to the result, it left the game to be played in relative anonymity. Why wasn’t this game played in the afternoon? If it had been played at noon in lieu of Iowa State/Kansas State, it would have been watched by dramatically more people.
This past week, the Big Ten Network wanted to showcase the first foray of Rutgers into conference play. If had been played at noon, it would have drawn attention and social media chatter. Instead, it was played in the shadow of at least five other better games and reduced to a mere two plays of highlights on College Football Final.
UConn played Boise State at noon. It was not a game that anyone besides diehard UConn fans or Boise State fans should have been watching. Alas, without competition, the game garnered tweets and attention from national college football writers and fans starving for something – anything – to watch in the noon time slot.
The ratings bear out that this game of scheduling chicken is cannibalizing everyone. While the total audiences across the major stations are up, the ratings for specific games are down across the board.
I never thought I would ever write these words but, well, here goes: There is entirely too much college football on Saturday nights now.
Is it any surprise that the only package to increase in ratings has been the SEC game on CBS, which has remained in the afternoon and, in most weeks, towers over the competition? In week 2, the most-watched game was USC/Stanford because it kicked off at 3:30 p.m., the traditional CBS slot which was vacated for the week due to the U.S. Open.
I believe ESPN – the major scheduling force in college football – has noticed this. Just this morning, they announced Tennessee at Georgia would kick off at noon on Sept. 27. It’s not the mind-blowing type of matchups that slot has given us in past years but it’s better than Ohio State/Kent State.
Will other networks and leagues follow suit? I doubt it. And that’s too bad. Won’t someone please think of the remotes??
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