In their hustle to fill air time, radio and TV pundits have covered every possible angle in the run-up to the Clemson-Alabama game for the NCAA football championship.
Is America suffering from Tiger-Tide fatigue? Which team will blink? Will Nick Saban actually smile? This much we know: Santa Clara, Calif. is not exactly the crossroads of college football, and there will be empty seats when they tee it up Monday night. Not to fret.
The football championship is a made-for-TV event. Yes, fans – even those notwearing orange or red – will watch, in vast numbers. This has a history:
In 1969, when ABC convinced Arkansas and Texas to delay their annual match to the first Saturday in December, the network gambled and hit the jackpot. “The Big Shootout” at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville was sold out for months. When those two touch-state, Southwest Conference rivals met, it always was. But would anyone watch?
Did we ever.
Shootout TV ratings crushed all others before – and maybe since. Nearly one of every six TVs in America was tuned to the epic clash. ESPN analyst Rece Davis says that with no other game to siphon off viewers, “it had never happened before, and will never happen again.”
Ever since, TV networks and colleges have held hands as they shake the money tree. ESPN pre-game show, for instance, has grown to the point we now watch with morning coffee. There is no turning back.
It’s all part of my new book Beyond The Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons. Wait til you see the original cartoons by Bill DeOre. For advance buy the book in advance, signed by author and artist, go to “How to Purchase.”
The scoreboard that day showed a winner and a loser. Now that 40 college games might be shown on any given Saturday, we must salute the Shootout as the trend setter. The big, big winner that day was television.