By Jim Weber
Super Sunday is still six days away and already the “Har-Bowl” has consumed the national conversation for a week.
It’s the biggest sporting event in America, one that has transcended sports to average 100 million viewers every year. Even though college football is arguably the country’s second most popular sport, the BCS title game averages a pedestrian 25 million viewers. That’s approximately what “Sunday Night Football” averaged for NFL regular season games this past fall.
The NCAA men’s basketball title game only draws about 20 million viewers per year despite all the excitement around March Madness. Even worse, the number of viewers has dropped precipitously over the decades from a high of 35 million viewers for the 1979 “Magic vs. Bird” title game.
Well, it’s time college football and basketball enact some changes to their title games by emulating the Super Bowl to increase ratings.
#1: Title Games on Sundays, Not Mondays
You might have noticed that the BCS title game and NCAA tournament title game are always on Mondays.
In college football’s case, Sundays are considered off limits because the BCS doesn’t want to compete for ratings with the NFL and Mondays always have more TV viewers than Saturdays. As for the NCAA tournament, CBS doesn’t want to cannibalize its highest-rated shows on Sunday nights with a sporting event that averages about the same viewers.
It’s time to throw out that old logic, because it clearly isn’t working.
The U.S. public is just conditioned to watch sports on the weekend. By Monday, everyone’s mind is back at work, depressed to be on the 9-to-5 grind again. Just look at how much higher the ratings for “Sunday Night Football” are in comparison to “Monday Night Football.”
As much as I love college football, I rarely get together with friends to watch the BCS title game like I do with the Super Bowl because it’s just too much of a pain. And I’m on the East Coast. For those on the West Coast, the title game starts before many even get home from work.
With the first college football playoff coming in 2014, the powers that be should ensure that the Final Four of football takes place during Wild Card weekend (normally the second weekend in January), with games taking place on Saturday and Sunday night (when there aren’t any NFL games). That would result in the national title game taking place on the Sunday night of NFL divisional playoff games – making sure the two sports never compete for air time.
Can you imagine what a feast of football that would be for sports fans?
As for college basketball, I’d like to see the Final Four moved from Saturday and Monday to Friday and Sunday. It would generate a lot more anticipation and hype over the course of the weekend and allow more people to get together to watch.
As someone who went to the Final Four last year, I can tell you that Saturday feels like a huge party while Monday’s atmosphere feels more like a consolation game, with so many people leaving town. It’d be much, much easier for people to attend a Final Four taking place entirely over the weekend than forcing fans to miss two days of work to attend.
The Final Four is going to be pushed to cable eventually anyway (hint: more money), so CBS might as well do it sooner rather than later like ABC/ESPN did. This would eliminate CBS’ concern of cannibalizing Sunday night shows like “NCIS”, “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist.” Problem solved.
#2: Bigger Spectacle
The genius of the Super Bowl is that it isn’t a sporting event, it’s a cultural one. That’s why so many people watch it. Even if you aren’t a fan of the two teams or even football, you watch because of everything around the game. The star-studded national anthems and halftime shows, the pyrotechnics, the legendary commercials, the celebrities, etc.
The BCS championship game and Final Four are lacking in all of those areas. The most memorable halftime show at the BCS national title game was Ashley Simpson’s bomb at the 2005 Orange Bowl in which she was booed off the field. The national anthem at this year’s title game was sung by the Zac Brown Band, who I had never heard of. The halftime show was the marching bands. I love marching bands, but they can perform before the games.
Last year’s basketball title game had no halftime show and an abomination of a national anthem performed by The Fray.
This Sunday’s Super Bowl? It has Alicia Keys and Beyoncé (the latter of whom could potentially reunite with her Destiny’s Child band mates).
Just compare video of the Alabama-Notre Dame halftime show with what the Black Eyed Peas did at the Super Bowl a couple years ago. Which one do you think is more exciting?
Another part of making the game a bigger spectacle is adding more students to the stands. Students are so much of what makes college sports great and yet they are noticeably absent from the college football and basketball title games. At the Final Four, there’s just a small section behind the hoops for students. At the BCS title game, they are even less noticeable.
Having title games on Sundays instead of Mondays would help increase student attendance a lot. But schools also have to be more active in flying and busing students to these games, like Northern Illinois did with the Orange Bowl earlier this month.
I still remember how much the atmosphere at the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis stood out because so many of the Butler fans in attendance were students. CBS had countless reaction shots of students that made the game feel like it was on campus instead of in an NFL dome. That’s the kind of energy all college football and basketball title games should have, not just a rare exception when a school in the game happens to be located a couple miles from the stadium.
No one is slower to change than college sports, and college football and basketball’s title games are an example of that. I can only hope that those in charge of the football and basketball Final Fours have a light bulb go off this Super Sunday and wonder to themselves, “Why can’t we do that?”