Yesterday, I wrote about the possible return of college football in the situation that there might be no students on campus in the Fall, but the football team would be active and playing in games. I am not so sure that is a good idea and I am confident that not every school administration would want to operate in that manner. I think there is another aspect of college football that might be examined since COVID-19 has forced everyone to think about things we previously took for granted.
College football always was an in-stadium spectacle. Picture in your mind a home game at Penn State where everyone is wearing white or a game in Gainesville, FL with tens of thousands of fans doing the “Gator chomp” or the “Sea of Red” in Memorial Stadium when Nebraska is playing at home. That has been the image of college football for decades. To be sure, those schools and those stadiums continue with those traditions in 2020 and will likely keep them going for the foreseeable future.
However, there are signs that college football’s image or its appeal might be changing in terms of its focus. Consider two issues that have arisen in the last couple of years”
- At Alabama home games, school officials have considered tracking students who attend games to see which ones stay in the stadium for the entire game. Yes, I know that it is only recently that the technology has been available to do this sort of thing on a large scale, but realize that 20 years ago, it would not have been necessary even if the technology had existed. Coach Nick Saban “chastised” those students who left games early saying that he wanted them to be as committed to supporting the team as the team was committed to winning. Off the top of my head, I do not know who the Alabama coach was 20 years ago, but I cannot imagine him even thinking such a thing let alone saying it.
- As alternative to the mental pictures I asked you to contemplate above, please take a moment to picture a home game in the Mid-American Conference on a Wednesday night in late October/early November. Even though the stadiums there are much smaller than the ones I suggested above, they are sparsely populated. There are small student sections; the band occupies a bunch of seats and in the rest of the stadium, there is virtually no one.
College football remains an “in-stadium spectacle” in many places but it is not the rock-solid entertainment that it used to be; there are cracks in the façade. Schools, conferences and the NCAA have taught college football fans that it is no longer necessary to go to the stadium to enjoy the game. As has happened in the NFL, the improvements in television picture quality along with the proliferation of games available in conjunction with the creature comforts present in your average man cave have created a different class of college football fan. This different class is just as passionate about the games and the schools – – but (s)he evokes that passion somewhere other than in the stadium. I don’t see that trend reversing any time soon; in fact, if colleges have to find ways to play in empty stadiums or ones where social distancing is enforced, there is a good chance that this trend will be enhanced in 2020.
Let me be clear; I am not trying to be like the prophet Jeremiah here; I am not “predicting” the destruction of college football. What I am saying is that college football has been slowly evolving in the past 10-15 years away from a purely in-stadium event and that trend will continue to happen. Since the college football mavens are going to be forced to think about things differently in 2020 anyway, perhaps it would be smart if they looked at this trend to see how they might make college football even stringer once COVID-19 is but a less-than-fond memory.
There is a report the morning that an investment bank hired by the XFL has twenty bidders at the moment who have signed non-disclosure agreements as a prelude to negotiating with the bank to buy the XFL out of bankruptcy. Vince McMahon had been rumored to be angling to buy back the XFL for “pennies on the dollar” as part of these bankruptcy procedures, but he has asserted in court that he is not going to make such a bid.
Reports this morning say that there is a “robust market” for whatever remains of the XFL. Given the lack of success for “Professional Spring Football” over the years, I am surprised that there are twenty entities out there ready to take on that challenge. According to reports, some of the potential buyers are considering presenting the XFL on television in 2021 in a “12-week tournament-style TV experience”. Please do not ask me to elaborate further on that matter because – like you – I await an explanation too.
Finally, here are two comments from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times relevant to football’s in-stadium experience:
“At Fark.com: ‘Michigan governor says no full stadiums this fall. Or as the Lions call it: Sunday.’ “
“Ohio State, among its contingencies amid the coronavirus pandemic, is bracing for football games in its 102,780-seat stadium with socially-distanced crowds of 20,000-22,000.
“In other words, they’d schedule a Buckeyes home game and a Rice home game breaks out.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………