Is the Great American Football Bubble (and its multi-billion dollar empire) about to Pop?
While the media continues to assault Nick Saban and the proposed 10 second rule, the reality is the HUNH will slowly kill college football. Why? The answer lies in another question: Do NFL players want an 18 game regular season? No. Does the NFL? Yes. Lets discuss.More games means more money. Who cares that this past season player injuries were at all time high levels in the NFL. I am sure everyone enjoyed those final few weeks of the NFL season with matchups full of pedestrian practice squad talent. When even the most rabid of NFL fans no longer know the majority of the names of their team's starting lineup, we have a problem. It is a problem the NFL continues to ignore by increasing the number of Thursday night games for the 2014 season. NFL executives only seem interested in increasing advertising dollars.
Media companies are (for the moment) throwing money at live sporting events because the DVR, Netflix, etc has killed traditional TV advertising revenue. At least with live TV, the thought is that more people will watch the event in real time and hence consume the media. The NFL and college football are raking in obscene amounts of dollars in these media deals. Additional pressure also arises from HDTVs becoming ubiquitous. More and more people are staying home and watching the games from their couch. The SEC is at the pinnacle of college football dominance with the most storied and passionate fan bases are failing to sell out their respective stadiums because their most loyal of fans would rather sit at home and watch the game on their new flat screen HDTV.
The problem with advertising is that you (the viewing public) are ultimately the product, not the sport of football. Advertisers are buying your time and attention as long as it is profitable to do so. With things like the HUNH, the $$ bubble of football popping is becoming more inevitable. Lets establish a couple of facts: the HUNH gives the offense a tactical advantage over the defense. While some fans may enjoy watching a sport where scoring happens because of unbalanced rules, more sophisticated fans will revolt. Fact: the HUNH does increase injury for the EXACT same reason the NFL players union opposes an 18 game schedule. More plays = more injuries. There is only so much tread on a tire. Run 90 plays versus 60 plays and I think you will see a stark contrast over the career of the actual football players. When players are pumping themselves full of chemicals (both legal and probably illegal) to the limits of human capability and then crashing into other players doing the same, more plays = more collisions = more injuries. You do not need a study to prove it. All you need is honesty and common sense.
College football and the NCAA has already played the wink and nod game by allowing the college football schedule to slowly balloon to in some cases a 14 game season. With the death of the BCS and the addition of another game, some college football teams will be playing a 15 game season this year. Thanks to those "brilliant" tacticians like Coach Gus Malzahn who have found and exploited a loophole in the spirit of the rules, these players may be playing 15 games with 25-50% more plays, which turns a 15 game season into 18-22 game season. It was not that long ago that 10-0 or 11-0 could win a National Championship.
If you got a moment to speak with players off the record without coaches around, they will on the whole tell you they are concerned about their long term physical health and the increase in the number of plays. You can not ignore the evidence of head trauma and football. Football participation is already starting to decrease in youth leagues. In the future if trends maintain, we will have less athletes playing a sport that will require more players (due to more plays, games and injuries). This will decrease the quality of the product itself. How many eyeballs will be interested watching in real time the equivalent, in terms of athletic quality, an NFL preseason game or a NCAA subdivision game? I don't think nearly as many. We are already not showing up to campus any more to tailgate and to watch the games in the stadium. How much loyalty will we need to watch bad football when you can simply change the channel to something else?
I am not the only one disturbed by this trend. Mr College Football, Coach Nick Saban himself, has expressed similar worries. Coach Saban is concerned about the decrease in attendance because, as he has stated numerous times, "Football is an entertainment business." If people are finding other ways to be entertained then it damages the long term viability of the sport itself. Now with the awareness of serious health risks, ever increasing number of games, a shrinking athlete base, a decided decrease in the tactics a defense can employ, the sport of football needs to seriously consider how many plays and how fast is appropriate for a football game. WIll the 10 second rule fix these complicated problems? Probably not. However, burying our head in the sand is not going to solve the problems either. I applaud Coach Saban and others for fighting for the integrity of the game itself. Coach Malzahn and his disciples need to look in the mirror and ask, "Is 80-100 plays a game in the best interest of football and the players who play the game?" I agree with the NFL Players Union, Coach Saban and say "No!"