Co-Founder and First President, The Drake Group[Athletics Director Bill] Moos was asked about the challenge of attracting fans to the stadium or arena during an age when fans can access games at the finger tips.
“The younger generations may not want to drive five, six, seven hours, or they may want to go to play a game of golf and have it on their iPad or something in the golf carts,” Moos said. “What really is important is that the gameday atmosphere and the show is lights out. Once the ball’s kicked off, that’s in the hands of 19- and 20-year-old young men. But everything leading up to it, everything at the halftime and intermissions and afterwards, as well, that can all be orchestrated and produced.
Clark Grell, “Moos’ first day at Nebraska includes meeting more new faces and popcorn tweak requests,” Lincoln Journal Star, October 23, 2017
Pageantry, tailgating, alumni gatherings, color, excitement, sex, violence, . . what’s not to like about college football? What’s there for Mr. Moos to fix?
Okay, there’s the pretend courses, the faux patriotism, noise piped in someone, somewhere thinks is music, drunk fans, high prices, uncomfortable seats, and the ubiquitous TV commercials and plays under review. Whew, maybe Mr. Moos has a lot to fix.
About that game-day atmosphere: I can help. Let’s begin with the easy one: understand, for football fans, arriving at the stadium is akin to visiting a cathedral. While the teams warm up, lean back, soak in the sun, and listen to the ball hit the foot and the players smack the pads. Peaceful, quiet, chat with friend or family. Except it is ruined by someone piping in a screeching sound similar to railroad car wheels when the conductor has slammed on the brakes. What is this madness? Is it some misconstrued idea of entertainment? Is there some sort of fear of silence in the land? Yes, don’t blame you, I guess. Restaurants, baseball parks—everywhere there has to be “background” music. Psychiatrists need to investigate. In the meantime, unplug the noise. You have a band; you have a great fight song: Hail Varsity. Play it time and again. That will be music. End the torture.
The next one is difficult, but manageable: play reviews limited to 15 seconds. Difficult, but doable. Hire NASA or Homeland Security or some geeks to set up a video program that captures every play from 18 angles. Hire three people who follow every play and within seconds tell the referee if the call should be overturned. There, that wasn’t so difficult after all. Getting the call correct should be a goal; not an obsession.
The next one is difficult, really, really difficult: end the TV commercial timeouts. Does Vegas have an over/under on how long fans are going to put up with these things? Talk about treating fans like dirt!
It’s the money you say. I do understand that your one million dollar salary plus incentives comes from those commercials. Without some of the commercials, athletics directors might make between $200,00 and $400,000. Ouch! And coaches’ salaries would nosedive. But that money makes your game-day atmosphere assignment even more difficult. The average teachers’ salary in Nebraska is a bit under $50,000. You are asking not only those teachers but thousands of people to pay a far greater percentage of their salary than you would pay for a ticket, to sit, time and again, for TV commercials. The word is ubiquitous. Think ubiquitous. TV commercials, plus play reviews, plus regular timeouts—do the numbers: ubiquitous is bad.
Okay, you aren’t going to fix that one, but you might work on tearing out the plank seats and replacing them with individual seats. Reduce capacity by about 20,000. Fan comfort would increase, but more, the sell-out streak would less likely end on your watch. And that would be a good thing for you.
. . . . .
You said “Once the ball’s kicked off, that’s in the hands of 19- and 20-year-old young men.” Unfortunately, you are wrong; it is in the hands of the coaches. But I can help you with that too. Here’s how—
The hurry-up offense is the trend of the times. Where often it doesn’t hurry up, it does expose how players are but extensions of a game between coaches. The team is about to snap the ball. Wait, the players stand, look to the sideline, check with the coach to be told what to do, return to their stance, and run the play. On defense, the tension rises as the players look to the sideline for the coach to signal which defense to use—“Daddy, what should I do?” But will they be set before the ball is snapped! Players as pawns moved around by adults playing a form of chess.
Today, it is all about the coaches, not the players. The TV camera was on a former coach more than on the left tackle, the focus being on whether the coach’s head was going to explode. Your near-invisible recent coach is more what I have in mind. Meaning. . . .
To make it a game for and by the players: Lock up the coaches. Yes, at game time, all coaches will be locked in a room providing 2 or 4 or 6 TV screens to monitor the game. iPad Notes permitted, but no outside communication. At halftime, coaches can join the team, and at second-half kickoff, back in the room they go.
Coaches will say they can’t have their careers hang on the decisions of 18-year olds. First, most of the players—at least the leaders—are not 18. They are 20, 21 or 22, old enough to lead a platoon into combat. No matter, locking up the coaches will actually determine who can coach. Think tennis.
With the coaches locked up, the game will be returned to the players, and the best coaching will be on display. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Drill, drill, drill. Watching film. Endlessly. Teach, teach, teach. It is what coaches say they do. Saturday is the examination, and everyone knows the teacher cannot tell the student how to answer the questions.
Yes, there are details. They can be worked out. Coaches on both teams located the same distance from the 50-yard line. Let them communicate with players between quarters. Maybe even during timeouts. Halftime for sure.
The quarterback knows which lineman is beating his man. He knows when the play he has called is heading for trouble; he knows how to check off to a better play. So let him do it. Which quarterback does the better job? The one who had the better teacher, er, coach. The middle linebacker has reviewed every formation of the opponent, knows every defensive alignment. When the off-tackle run is killing the defense, he will change alignment to stop it. That is what he is taught to do.
I was the quarterback for four years for the Laurel, Nebraska Bears. Plus one year for the Doane College Tigers. As a football player, I could do it all except run, block, and tackle. But I could see when the play I called was the wrong play, and I would check off to counter what the defense was doing. “66” was the quarterback sneak; “88” was the quick down and out pass to left end Tuttle. And I could tell if our left guard Johnson was beating the snot out of the guy across the line of scrimmage.
Isn’t that charming you say, but the game is much more complicated than in the leather-helmet days. Well, I could have handled “22,” “33,” and “44” too. Doesn’t matter; so is the preparation. More, it doesn’t matter because both teams play by the same rules. And isn’t that the idea of sports?
. . . .
I left out mention of paying athletes. You have enough on your plate as it is. The present situation is shameful: adults making tons of money while the players make peanuts. But there is something as shameful as adults ripping off college athletes, and that is controlling them. Paying athletes is about more control and, more than control, the ultimate surrender to commercialized college athletics. A better topic: free the athlete, not control him.
Saving college football means to stop seeing fans as props, and it means giving the game back to the players. Stop considering them as hired hands, and stop using them as pawns. Free the athletes; don’t control them. Make the game fun for them; make it about them, not adults.
Okay Bill, that’s your assignment should you accept it. Hope you do; someone needs to save college football.