Sports are ever evolving.
Need proof? Look at football and the equipment players wear. Just 50 years ago, facemasks were still a fairly new idea. At that time, they were only about 20 years removed from leather helmets and long sleeved jerseys.
The college and professional football I watched growing up does not exist today.
I’m not just bemoaning (again) the loss of physical football. I mean the nature of the game has changed.
There was a time when running backs were valued for their ability to carry the ball and block. If they could catch the ball out of the backfield, that was nice but not required.
Earl Campbell and Larry Csonka didn’t get paid to catch the ball. I know, I know. I’m talking about the 1970s, a full 20 years or more before many of today’s fans were even born.
I remember when men like Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Darrell Royal, Tom Osborne, Bo Schembechler, and yes, Woody Hayes, were the face of a college program for decades, not years.
I remember when a bowl game meant something and six wins didn’t guarantee a bowl because no many bowl games existed.
We now have a week of television dedicated to bowl games. I’ll admit I watch all of them that I can, right down to the “You Break It, You Bought It Bowl.”
I remember watching the Super Bowl on Sunday afternoon, not Sunday night.
I remember watching the Major League Baseball league championship series on a weekday afternoon and watching the World Series open on a Saturday afternoon.
I remember slow motion replays from one angle and broadcasters who simply described the action, preferring not to be part of the game themselves.
There’s a move to blame the watering down of physical play in football to the effort to make the game safer and there are those who believe said efforts have gone overboard.
I think safety concerns have certainly impacted football but that’s not the biggest reason for rapid change in the nature of the game.
One common denominator has changed every major sport and that is television.
Sports have changed to accommodate television.
Game times have been shifted to prime time to boost ratings. When does the Super Bowl, World Series, College Football Championship (and major conference football championships), NCAA Basketball Championship, and NBA Finals take place?
They are aired at times where optimal amounts of advertising can be sold.
Sports are no longer geared toward fans — they are geared toward consumers.
Ratings do not measure the popularity of a sport. Ratings measure the marketability of a product, be it a movie, a brand of beer, a fast food chain, or nearly anything else one would care to name.
Do you really think the NFL is really concerned about fans not watching games because they want to protect the sport? No, they’re upset with the dip in ratings because that’s their revenue source taking a hit.
Why do you think Major League Baseball was so slow to act on fighting steroids? Fans love the long ball and home runs mean ratings.
Why do you think NASCAR added a “play-off” round? The old days of going through a long season with a cup champion decided shortly after the middle of the racing season hurt ratings. They apparently believed they had to shake things up and keep the attention of fans because good racing alone wasn’t enough.
Why do you think the NFL is now a passing league and that mentality has filtered down to the college ranks?
Offense is exciting. The solid and consistent ground game might win games but it leaves many fans bored to tears. The 40 passes per game offense — especially if they can complete a few of them — captures the short attention span of the modern fans who have to offer running commentary on social media. Players also offer commentary, drawing attention to the individual and away from the team as a whole.
Ever wonder why the concept of the team is slowly fading away?
Yes, it’s the attraction of offense that pulls in viewers. That’s one more reason why quarterbacks have to be protected. They help provide that offense and excitement that draws fans to games.
Remember, many of those guys are also pitchmen for various products; making sure they stay on the field also directly helps with the advertising efforts.
Keep that attention and keep their eyes on the commercials.
I realize commercials and in particular, televised sports, have gone hand in hand for decades but it’s never been as bad as it is today.
Where is professional football headed? Where are Major League Baseball, the NBA, and college sports headed?
Wherever popular demand dictates.