This Sunday, at 2PM Eastern, Montana and South Dakota State will be competing in Frisco for the FCS National Championship. It has all the makings of a terrific title game – the prohibitive No. 1 in South Dakota State, and Montana, whose slow rise to prominence makes for a great storyline. Additionally, the game represents two of the greatest fanbases in FCS.
Assuming you knew about this – and ESPN and the NCAA haven’t gone out of their way to tell people – their broadcast on ABC will be going up against five different NFL games with postseason implications.
Thanks to the galaxy brains at ESPN and the FCS Playoff subcommittee, the entire geographic footprint of the NFC South will be threatened to not tune into the game on ABC – the Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers all are competing in games that will have a direct impact of their postseason. Not to mention the Jaguars, who have to win to make the playoffs, and the Vikings, who have to win to stay alive.
What makes it doubly aggravating is that the FCS and the NCAA learned nothing from last year, when they did the same thing.
NFL broadcasts, in 2021 and 2022, quite predictably are the most watched broadcast programs in all of TV. NFL playoff and regular season games made up 19 of the top 20 broadcasts in 2022, the only outlier President Biden’s State of the Union address.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to wonder if, maybe, it’s a horrible idea to try to broadcast the FCS National Championship against it?
Saturday at noon would have featured no competition for football at all. In fact, it would have been the perfect lead-in to two ESPN football products – the Steelers and Ravens at 4PM, and Houston and Indianapolis at 8PM.
It has to beg the question – are the people at ESPN just idiots, or are they purposely trying to devalue the value of the broadcast property they own?
It’s that lack of care about their broadcast property that is my biggest concern after the announcement this week that ESPN re-upped the rights for broadcasting NCAA Championships for the next eight years.
ESPN has spent the latter part of a decade misunderstanding the type of person that follows FCS football, that follows FCS teams, and want them to get the team names and team graphics right. Most of them don’t care that Michigan’s backup quarterback entered the portal yesterday, who’s favored to win the Heisman, or what libelous utterance was uttered on the Pat McAfee show this week. Most of them simply want some sort of evidence that ESPN is actually actively following the goings-on in the subdivision, knows who their team is, what makes them good, and to get the star players’ names right.
And the mere act of scheduling the FCS National Championship game in the equivalent of television Siberia only further makes the case.
I’m hoping against hope that with their new TV deal, ESPN and the powers that be in FCS do some of the same things they’re floating in regards to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, like exploring revenue distribution units. That, and scrapping the antiquated home bidding system of a bygone era, would probably do a great deal to grow the playoffs and to make it even more valuable to ESPN.
But if they can’t even figure out that scheduling head to head against the NFL is a dumb idea, I’m not holding my breath.
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
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