Miller: Killing the Golden Goose

First off, before I really get started, let me be the last to offer up a hearty congratulations to the Glen Lake Lakers’ football team. Even though they didn’t win the Division 6 state championship last Friday, they represented northern Michigan well… and that praise is coming from a Suttons Bay alum. Well done Lakers!

The thought struck me as I walked back and forth on the sidelines of Ford Field during that game just how massive that stadium is, and despite large (and vocal) fan turnouts from both schools, that stadium was overwhelmingly empty for the state final.

That speaks to the incredible popularity of the sport of football, at all levels, and especially at the NFL level.

Which is why I’ve been troubled lately to see the flagging interest in the sport this season. And while many people are just as interested as they’ve ever been, there is a growing portion of the population that’s beginning to wonder what’s wrong with football.

I can tell you from my perspective that I have watched demonstrably less NFL Football this fall than I have in previous years, and that attention has been slowly fading in me. I still enjoy the game, and I love covering it on Friday nights for “Sports Overtime,” but my interest in the pro and college games have taken a hit.

And a lot of that has to do with money.

Over the past 10-15 years, the leagues, and the TV networks that air the games, have constantly expanded the opportunities for us to see live games on TV, and while that is a democratizing, and noble goal, it is also a greedy grab for more advertising money. And it’s that greed that’s killing the proverbial “Goose That Lays the Golden Egg.” 

How is it, in a sport as violent and as harmful to the body as football is, that we’re okay with “Thursday Night Football?” Forcing teams to play games a mere four days after their most recent contest? That is far from humane, and the most blatant example of this rampant unchecked greed at its absolute worst. I was encouraged by the recent report that the NFL might consider doing away with this project… until two days later when the NFL refuted the report, and claimed that they were committed to (“Dollar$!!!”) Thursday Night Football. 

That’s perhaps the most frustrating thing to see, that those in power seem to be the only ones that don’t see the forest for the trees. Their sight has been blinded by the green of cash.

The same goes for the college game, where my alma mater (Central Michigan) finished up its season with a pair of Tuesday night “MACtion” tilts. The Chippewas are fortunate that their schedule is flexible enough that they can have a week “off” prior to a game that early in the week, so perhaps the health and safety issue isn’t as prevalent here. But what about your loyal CMU fans? The ones that show up rain or shine to the stadium every Saturday throughout the fall to tailgate, and socialize with friends and former classmates prior to a game.  How many of them are able to come out the stadium at 7:00-8:00 on Tuesday night and stay for the duration of the game? Judging by the look of the stands at these contests on TV, not many. Why are schools giving their fans “the Heisman?” The answer is money. It costs a lot to run a collegiate athletic program, and the cash offered by these TV networks for “programming” on non-traditional game days is a salve for a lot of what ails these schools’ budgets.

But, these decisions, while temporarily lucrative, do come with costs. “Thursday Night Football” is overwhelmingly abysmal most weeks. Teams that you think are good frequently offer up lackluster efforts, because their bodies just aren’t ready to take that kind of punishment again. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night college football games might be a momentary distraction, but they take away an opportunity for many fans to be in person to see the action, and therefore interest and passion for the program can stagnate.

The powers-that-be really need to wake up and realize that it might be time to pull on the reins a little bit, for the overall health of their sports, and the continued interest of their fans. The market for football is saturated beyond belief, and while it might still be okay right now, this cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time. If we keep moving down this path, football will turn into baseball, a largely regional game in which TV viewers will choose to only watch the teams they care about, because all of the games are on TV, and one can only watch so much. 

The lone island of solitude in the glut of football team programming has been Fridays, when the leagues stay largely silent to allow the fans across the nation to enjoy the grassroots level high school games playing out at the stadium near them. 

But… the Big Ten just announced a plan to play Friday night college football games next year.

GULP!

Categories: Football