Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Open Letter to the NCAA

Congratulations on another successful year of college football.  Sure do wish I could have been a part of it.  Your product is fantastic, but it’s hard to watch when everyone you’ve hired to cover it hates me.

Of all the sports seasons, college football has long been my favorite.  It’s not perfect, but every flaw adds to its charm:
  • Despite the big budgets of the programs, most of the guys on the field still play for the love of the game.  There are the few self-aggrandizers every year, but they are few and far between. 
  • You have way too many programs to follow them all, which opens the door for surprises.  This year’s Western Michigan being a prime example.
  • Your season is the shortest of any sport. With only a dozen games per team, give or take, that always leaves the fans wanting more at the end of the season.
  • Your players are rough around the edges, vary widely in talent level even on the same team, and make mistakes on a regular basis. That adds a frisson of unpredictability to each and every game, and makes your product far more exciting than the bland routine of the NFL’s machine like perfection.
  • Your bowl system rewards half of your players with one last travel game for the most part free of the brutal pressure of the regular season. Those kids work hard all year, and your policy of rewarding most of them with one last walk on the field is commendable.  It also rewards fans of half the teams with one last chance to enjoy the game during the cold winter months. My family’s annual Christmas Eve tradition of watching the Hawaii Bowl one of the highlight’s of year.
  • You doesn’t have a solid, unquestionable system for determining a true champion, and that’s a good thing. They might crown one, but even with the short playoff, not a year goes by that doesn’t feature some controversy over teams that deserved a title shot being left out. This leads to millions of man hours spent discussing your champion, and unlike the NFL those discussions don’t end two days after the trophy ceremony. People still talk about the year the coaches shafted unbeaten Michigan to throw an undeserved bone to the retiring Tom Osborne. Every conference has at least one team that went unbeaten and didn’t get the title, and they never stop talking about it.  The messy champion system guarantees controversy, and that guarantees interest. And really, you don’t need a true champion. That’s just something the sports writers argue because having one makes their jobs a lot easier.
And that brings us to crux of the issue: sports writers are terrible people who make no secret of the fact that they hate most of your fans. Look no further than that poster child for the Dunning-Kruger Effect, Kieth Olbermann. For some bizarre reason, that whole industry has decided naked partisanship and serving the needs of a few cocktail party hosts in New York City is a better path the success than serving the needs and desires of the people who actually, you know, enjoy your product.  It's great for their careers, but average fans like myself find it off putting enough to put off seeking out your games.

Those red areas represent a large number of your most
valuable fans. Irritate them at your own peril.
Surely you've noticed the massive downtick in ratings the NFL experienced this year.  That loss is a direct result of the NFL and all its water carrying Mini-Kieths flagrantly and repeatedly engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct while covering your games.   All those cheap shots add up over time, and like the great Barry Sanders, eventually the smart fans will have had enough and leave the game before they take one shot too many.
The NFL's ratings woes aren't just a blip.  Their fan-loss isn't just a hopeful sign people are turning to you for entertainment.  It's a glimpse into your future, if you don't man-up and start throwing the yellow flag at the people covering you. 
While you can't stop the ESPN's from talking about you, you can control the contracts you sign.  That means you have the leverage to allow inside access only to those reporters who agree to leave the partisanship on the field, and not in the culture. Fans don't mind when reporters have favorite teams - Kirk Herbstreit's love of the Big 10 has inspired more verbose rants than this one! - and we love it.  It gives us something to talk about, and one more guy to root for or against, even in the booth.
When those covering the sport take to covering US, though?  And when that coverage of we viewers is so consistently and nakedly hostile? They don't inspire us to debate and discuss, they inspire us to turn off the TV, go outside, and find something better to do.
I'm not here to make threats or promises that I can't keep.  I'm just here warning you about the natural effects of the decision you've made to tie your Boomer Sooner wagon to the twin horses of New York City politics and contempt for your fans.  You might want to change those horses before they drag you over the same cliff that is claiming the NFL.
Jon Mollison
P.S. Congratulations, Clemson, on another outstanding season. Why the SEC wanted a playoff is beyond me. They are quickly learning that more teams in contention in the post season makes it harder for them to dodge playing the best teams in the country. Under the BCS system they managed to consistently play a decent team with no losses who faced no real competition in the regular season instead of a heavyweight with one or two losses that could have mauled them in the championship game - when they bothered to play a non-SEC team at all. If they were smart they'd lobby for a return to the BCS days of hiding behind the poll system's apron strings.

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