Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fox, NCAA Fumble the Ball

Picture this: after a full season of listening to Simms and Nantz, Aikman and Buck, or Michaels and Madden, broadcast NFL games every Sunday right through the playoffs for their respective networks, the NFL decides to put the Super Bowl on ABC with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit behind the mic. Take nothing away from Musburger and Herbstreit, but do you think critics would go knuts about having two guys and a network that has nothing to do with the NFL put on the biggest game of the year? That’s exactly the situation with the BCS Championship Game.
Fox did not cover one college football game all season, not one, not even a lowly bowl game played in Idaho in mid-December, yet the only place to find four of the five biggest games of the season, including college football’s “Super Bowl” is Fox. Yes, they host the BCS Standings show every Sunday, and undoubtedly know how to put on a big sports event, but I want the broadcasters I watch all season, the crews that have insight to those defining moments in mid-October.
Fox offset the lack of in-season college football experience with a strong cast of studio analysts and some game analysts, notably former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, Charles Davis, and even Urban Meyer for the title game. Jimmy Johnson, and the Kenny Albert/Moose Johnston tandem leaped over after covering the NFL all season. Still, the coverage lacks personal insight. Analyzing the game does not change, but familiarity with the players, referencing specific games during the season, bringing other teams into the discussion that can make a case for the crown, these guys and the network as a whole are not prepared for good college football coverage. I say this without even mentioned the Cotton Bowl, when Pat Summerall, who they ran off the stations NFL coverage a few seasons ago, had the call, and frankly, I could not bear to listen. For a few minutes it was great hearing the legendary voice, but his lack of knowledge quickly shined through and drove me to the next game.
TO make matters worse, Fox and the NCAA completely blow the scheduling. Explain this one, build up for over a month, then play four BCS games in three days, before taking three days off prior to the title game. The final ratings will tell the story, but Fox lost out. A weekend of exciting NFL football, and the Clemens steroid debacle, completely overshadowed the game on Monday. Why wait? What was wrong with Friday night, while you have the audience captivated? Or, god forbid, play two of these games in the same time slot, perish the thought? Every week fans watch college football all day Saturday, and find a way to watch multiple games, and actually enjoy it. College football succeeded for years playing every game on New Years Day. Maybe squeezing all the games into one day will be too much, but why not start with the Rose Bowl on New Years afternoon, followed by a nighttime doubleheader, then two consecutive nights to finish the BCS.
The BCS also suffers from competitiveness problems. Without the exact stats in front of me, recent years have provided more unwatchable, blowouts than nail biters. For every Boise St. upset win we have a series of blowouts of over twenty points, case in point, four of this seasons five games. Another advantage of having two games played simultaneously is preventing a blowout from driving away the audience.
Picking the teams that play in the BCS, and the merits of a playoff system, is an argument for a different day. For now, the NCAA and the networks should at least fix the schedule, and make Fox get involved with coverage before the last week of the season, so they can present a game the viewers can enjoy.