NIL and the transfer portal is giving us a season that, 6 weeks in, could have the most potential National Championship winners than any season in recent memory.
Kids don’t want to sit, and they want to get paid if they can. So if you’re sitting on the bench at Ohio State, and someone has a few thousand in endorsement deals and a starting spot waiting for you at Purdue or Indiana, you might be tempted to take it.
Technically some of this is an inducement, which isn’t technically allowed, but until the NCAA can stop it, it’s the unwritten law of the land.
This creates volatility for the top-tier programs, the same volatility that that most college football fans are subjected to. It also makes the games on the field more exciting. Texas Tech had Oregon down late, Boston College almost upset Florida State, and Notre Dame needed all 60 minutes to put away DUKE!
So here we are headed into week 6, and the top 30 teams in the AP Poll all have a legitimate opportunity to win out and make an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Last year at the Week 6 mark, Texas Christian University was at #13. This year the team in that spot is Washington State. If the Horned Frogs can make a run like they did in 2022, why can’t the Cougs? Why can’t Cam Ward be the new Max Duggan?
And yes, it’s a bummer for teams to continue to lose star players to teams that have always had the ability to re-load, like a USC, but what happens when a talented USC player feels like they’ve been recruited over through the portal? They get to move on, too. That’s how Oregon ended up with Gary Bryant, and how CJ Williams ended up at Wisconsin. It’s also how you get Courtland Ford starting at right tackle for a currently undefeated Kentucky Wildcats team.
One of the things that the portal and NIL was supposed to kill off was the impact Group of 5 teams, because the moment that a player pops, you have to assume a Power 5 position coach is in them or their parents DMs. But what seems to be happening instead, is G5 kids are playing better than they ever have, because they’re incentivized by not being locked in for four years in a small college town. Look at Wyoming, sitting here at 4-1, about to host an undefeated Fresno State team on national TV despite losing a ton of players to the portal the last two years. The Cowboys program should be dead after losing so many players.
And Fresno State should have fallen off after losing Jake Haener to the NFL, but the Portal allowed Jeff Tedford to go out and save Mikey Keene from having to sit on the bench at UCF, and they’re right back in the mix. Fox Sports thinks this is compelling enough to push Iowa State vs TCU to FS2.
We need to talk about Rodney Harrison’s seriously unprofessional postgame interview of Chris Jones.
Honestly, this shocked me.
Every year as the NFL has more and more broadcast partners, an increasing number of former players and coaches are getting opportunities to be part of the pregame, postgame, or broadcast crews.
I’ve been in the booth. I’ve done every kind of analysis there is, and I know that there can be pitfalls and temptations when that red light comes on, to put a message out to the public that might not be something the audience is ready to digest.
Rodney Harrison though? He shouldn’t be that guy. He’s been part of NBC’s coverage for fifteen years now. And NBC is supposed to be the classy channel, serving up football to the morally upstanding crowd that spent the rest of their football viewing hours at church or with their families.
So what happened? Let’s get into it.
The Kansas City Chiefs just finished a 23-20 win over the New York Jets in front of Taylor Swift.
I’m not sure if you caught one of the 500 mentions that she was at the game.
And Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones, who sacked Zach Wilson in the win, was invited up to the booth to speak with Harrison and Tony Dungy.
Harrison asked Jones : Was Zach better tonight than what you anticipated he would be watching him on tape? And you can be honest.
Jones replied with: Honestly, if I’m being completely honest, we knew it was gonna be a battle. He’s continuing to get better week in and week out. He’s continuing to lead week in and week out
At this point it went off the rails, Harrison interrupted to call Zach Wilson “garbage,” and when Jones pushed back and said that “Zach Wilson is special,” Harrison finished the exchange disagreeing, saying that “I think he had a special night, but I don’t think he’s “special.”‘
Look, no one thinks that Zach Wilson is out here tearing up the league. He was replaced by Aaron Rodgers this season. The Jets knew Wilson wasn’t ready to be the guy in 2023, but he just put together a good enough game to keep the Jets within striking distance against the defending Super Bowl champions. Was right then and there really the time to be calling this man “garbage?”
And if you’re going to call a player garbage, what do you need Chris Jones to agree with you for? You have a platform. Call the man garbage on your own time.
You wasted a moment with one of the game’s best defensive players, who earned the right to talk about HIS team and all they’ve done to stay on top, to bring negativity to the set and embarrass yourself in front of America.
Now, to Harrison’s credit, he apparently did reach out and apologize for his comments, but I’m more concerned with how we got to this point in the first place. Everyone has takes that are too hot for broadcast TV, and some networks have build an entire sports talk economy so there can be a place for those takes. If Rodney Harrison wants to step off that NBC desk and do the podcast circuit, or get on the radio with me and chop it up, anything goes.
But we can’t have people that have reached the pinnacle of broadcasting looking down at these hot take streets and trying to have one foot in both worlds. And we definitely can’t have people in that role setting up the game’s best athletes to take the bait and end up in some drama that they never wanted to be a part of.
“As Deion Sanders continues to capture the fascination of college football, even when his team gets blown out, something else is happening. It may not make headlines, but it’s happening all across the country. In Black homes. In Black businesses. Black fathers and sons, Black moms and daughters, Black friends and workmates – so many in the Black community are talking about Sanders. They are saying that Colorado is Black America’s team.“
To Richard Sherman and Keyshawn Johnson’s credit, they seemed to understand the question while being a little confused by the premise.
Richard Sherman said Deion’s “got a lot of fans in the black community, and he’s got a lot of fans in every community.”
Keyshawn Johnson said “Everybody wants to roll with Deion, because it’s Deion.”
Not everybody. Just ask the people that wanted him to stick it out at Jackson State and continue to help uplift HBCU’s. Just like Deion Sanders, those people aren’t hard to find.
My instinct is reject this premise altogether, because THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BLACK AMERICA.
We don’t have one voice, or one interest. What race of people does?
We’re not a monolith.
If you’re black, maybe there’s an added incentive for you to have a rooting interest in Deion Sanders’ success.
Every positive indicator you can grasp onto is a helping hand when it comes to both self-affirmation and raising up the next generation.
But I guarantee you that if you say Deion Sanders’ name at a gathering of Black Americans, that are supposedly united around wanting to see University of Colorado succeed, you’re going to get the whole spectrum of opinions.
And that includes people who don’t care about Deion Sanders at all, and will never care.
Believe it or not, not every black person cares about sports.
10 million people tuned in to the last Colorado game. There are over 40 million black people in America. The math ain’t mathing.
And if you do care about sports, especially college football, are you rooting for Deion Sanders to the point where you’ve left your allegiance behind? Do you want him bringing the Buffaloes to your town to beat up on your school?
I know I don’t.
And they didn’t by the way. Go Ducks.
My point is that it’s silly to consider any group of people to be one thing, on one team. White people never have to deal with this.
Even if there’s something that is disproportionately loved by caucasians, like pickle ball, or pumpkin spice, or Duke basketball, or the movie Rudy, it would be absurd to say something is being embraced by all of White America.
But when it comes to minorities, for some reason we entertain the premise on a live television show moderated by Skip Bayless?
If there was a meeting that we were all supposed to be on Team Deion, I must have missed it!
For another example of this, look at what’s happening with the Washington Redskins… or Football Team… or Commanders.
A petition is going around from an organization called the Native American Guardians Association that wants new owner Josh Harris to change the name of the franchise from the Commanders back to the Redskins.
And the reaction online has been “I thought Native Americans were the ones that wanted the name changed, why can’t they make up their mind?”
Well maybe because there is no “they.”
Native Americans aren’t one thing. So much so, that it’s where we literally get the term “tribal.”
Holding an entire group accountable for the opinions of one part of that group is how the entire indigenous community ended up having treaty after treaty carve up their land, culture and resources.
Look, I don’t care how well intentioned Mike Freeman was, his column is what gave Skip Bayless permission to go out on TV and present the idea that Black America has some sort of hive mind.
Presenting the idea that an increasing number of black people are rooting for Deion Sanders isn’t dangerous, but the idea that it isn’t possible for opinions on Deion Sanders to vary because of one’s skin color is the exact reason that every time I tweet about Coach Prime, I have trolls in my mentions saying that I only support him because he’s black.
We’re giving permission for idiots and racists to think like idiots and racists.
George Wrighster takes on the hottest topics in college football each and every week.
George leads off by pointing out that the Associated Press voters continue to produce embarrassing results that are biased against west coast teams, and in the case of Florida and Tennessee, ignore the head-to-head results on the field.
Next (6:35), George gets into the strange narratives that came out of Oregon’s 42-6 win over Colorado- is criticizing or supporting Deion Sanders a matter of race? What should the proper expectations for Colorado be?
(13:06) Ryan Day went after Lou Holtz after Ohio State’s 17-14 win over Notre Dame. Was his target Lou Holtz, or his own fans and boosters?
(17:15) Notre Dame fans weren’t sure Marcus Freeman was the guy for the job when Notre Dame started out 3-3 in the 2022 season. George Wrighster points out that the energy around the program has changed, even though it was a coaching mistake that helped Ohio State beat them last weekend.
(19:30) The ACC has six undefeated teams and is shaping up to have a fun conference slate ahead. Most of the teams that have improved are relying on transfer talent, but Dabo Swinney and Clemson seem to be struggling by rejecting the idea of building through the portal.
(25:18) Brett Yormark saved the Big 12 from crumbling in the future, but the conference looks down outside of the two teams that are leaving- Texas and Oklahoma. George talks about how the unlikely team that all Big 12 fans have to rally behind this year is the Kansas Jayhawks.
(28:20) The best game of the weekend might not be one you expect. George gets into why everyone should be watching the 4-0 Kentucky Wildcats host the 3-1 Florida Gators.
It’s time for me to put together my list of 10 players that have a chance to be your 2023 Heisman Trophy winner.
Let’s get into it.
10) Washington State Quarterback Cam Ward
The Incarnate Word transfer had a rough first season in Pullman. He was holding the ball too much, his timing with his wideouts was off, and he didn’t always take the easy yards with his legs. This year, he’s fixed all of that, and the result is a mind boggling 13 touchdowns and no interceptions on 75% completions. It’s going to be tough for him to get media attention, but road games at Oregon and Washington will give him every shot he needs.
9) Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders.
Why is Shedeur Sanders on this list after his performance against Oregon?
Two reasons- first, his upcoming schedule is as tough as anyone in the country. If he gets back on track, and a couple other dominoes fall his way, he’ll be undeniable.
Second, what happened against Oregon revealed the truth that people who know ball have known all along. Shedeur Sanders ***IS*** Colorado’s offense. All these other players on this list have a supporting cast trying to help get them the Oscar. Sanders is basically Tom Hanks in Castaway.
8) LSU Wide Receiver Malik Nabers
One of my biggest complaints about Jayden Daniels in his five-year college career is that he doesn’t give his future NFL wide receivers opportunities to win one on one matchups. That changed this year, because Daniels is letting Nabers make plays.
Assuming LSU can play in 14 games this year, Nabers is on pace for 1,800 yards and 18 Touchdowns.
7) Texas Quarterback Quinn Ewers
Quinn Ewers beat Alabama on the road- a thing that has not happened for any out of conference quarterback since Nick Saban’s first year on the job. He’s not having the best statistical season of the quarterback candidates, but the Big 12 sucks enough this year that he should be able to catch up.
6) Florida State Quarterback Jordan Travis
The advantage Travis has, is that Florida State’s most difficult games are behind them. It would even be fair to consider him the frontrunner at this point. He’ll need support from the Seminole’s defense, because as long as they hold up their end, he’ll have a good chance of being able to put his stamp on this season in their 10th game against Miami, and in the season finale against Florida.
5) Notre Dame Running Back Audric Estime
The Golden Domers are going to have to win out, that’s the only way that people will forget that Estime had an average game against Ohio State. But Estime has a real shot to average over 7 yards a carry over the course of the full season. If he does that on 200+ carries, he’s gonna be on that stage.
4) Oregon Quarterback Bo Nix
Bo Nix was a five star recruit coming out of high school. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing in year five. His risks are calculated, and that’s how he’s flirted with an 80% completion percentage while still taking downfield shots. Plus, it’s a priority for Oregon to keep Bo Nix’s name in this conversation, so you know they’re going to run them numbers up.
3) Washington WR Rome Odunze
Odunze belongs on this list as college football’s best returner and possibly receiver, but you know how this works. It’s a QB award.
Rome Odunze, so far, has been more of what people thought Marvin Harrison Jr. would be than Marvin Harrison Jr. Don’t shoot the messenger.
2) USC Quarterback Caleb Williams
Caleb Williams “struggled” his way to accounting for five touchdowns against Arizona State. That’s a bad day for him. He’s got the best stable of receivers in the country. He’s possibly the best player there has ever been at making his own pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. And maybe most importantly, he’s college football’s biggest brand. He’s going to be in the conversations even if USC wins less than some of the other quarterbacks in the running.
1) Washington Quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
This man is chasing five thousand yards and 50 touchdowns, and he’s not forcing anything. It’s all happening in the rhythm of the offense. Washington’s defense gets him the ball back, and he just goes to work. It’s the perfect head coach and quarterback combination. But anything worse than 11-1, and voters are going to count him out- even though they shouldn’t.
We need to talk about the New York Jets quarterback situation.
The New York Jets should not give up on ZachWilson.
I don’t care that Matt Ryan reached out, I don’t care that Carson Wentz reached out.
Zach Wilson is your best bad option. But he’s an option. Those other guys had multiple chances to prove they could still play. They can’t!
What are you going to do, trade for Kirk Cousins? How? You think he wants to uproot his Kohl’s catalog family twice in one year? Once mid-season, and once when Aaron Rodgers gets back? Plus, it’s financially impossible.
The Jets didn’t give up on ZachWilson when they signed Aaron Rodgers, and they shouldn’t give up on him now.
If they didn’t believe this could work on some level, he wouldn’t STILL BE IN THE BUILDING.
Do you realize how rare it is in today’s NFL to draft or bring in a QB that you intend on starting over your previous franchise guy, and hold on to both?
Even when your intent isn’t to start the guy right away, like with Will Levis in Tennessee, everyone knows the writing is on the wall.
I mean, think about it. That’s how Aaron Rodgers ultimately ended up in New York! If the Packers use the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL draft on Tee Higgins or Michael Pittman Jr instead of drafting Jordan Love, Rodgers is likely finishing his career in Green Bay.
The last time the Jets decided to move on from the guy they drafted to be the face of the franchise, they made sure Sam Darnold was out of the building for three weeks before they spent the second overall pick on ZachWilson.
There has to be a reason Wilson is still around.
It’s not continuity with the offense. The Jets specifically brought in Nathaniel Hackett to work with Aaron Rodgers.
It’s not ZachWilson’s immaculate locker room vibes. We saw the entire team turtle up when Wilson refused to publicly acknowledge last year that his play was holding the team back.
And by the way, shout out to Wilson for taking responsibility for the Jets loss against Dallas. That’s growth, and we like growth.
The obvious answer to why ZachWilson is still in a Jets uniform is that the kid has talent, even if he hasn’t put it all together on the field yet.
And if we’re being honest, we have seen flashes of that talent, but his four previous career games against the hated New England Patriots were so incredibly awful that they color the way a lot of fans see his young career so far.
Not turning the ball over in the fifth game though? That’s progress.
Look, if the Jets thought ZachWilson was ready to be the guy, they never would have went out and got Aaron Rodgers. If they thought ZachWilson would never be ready to be the guy, he’d probably be in Tampa Bay battling for reps with Baker Mayfield.
Robert Griffin III was right when he said that the player that gives the Jets the best chance to win is already in the locker room. It might not be a realistic chance, but it is the best chance.
So what is Wilson’s recipe for success? Trust his brother from another mother, Garrett Wilson, to make plays. Feed the ball to the stacked running back stable of Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook. Don’t take unnecessary sacks. And perhaps more important than all of that, Wilson needs to use his access to the most talented one-legged QB in NFL history- the same guy that seemed to have so much fun calling plays for him in the preseason.
The season isn’t over yet. All the New York Jets goals are still in front of them. The Jets didn’t give up on ZachWilson, and he has an opportunity to reward them for that. Let’s see if he can.
We need to talk about the Miami Dolphins scoring 70 on the Denver Broncos, and all of the things that scoring 70 in an NFL game means.
First up- Mike McDaniel is that Dude
That doesn’t mean that what owner Stephen Ross did to try and ruin Brian Flores’ career chasing Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, and the man that just got 70 dropped on his head- Sean Payton, is something we can excuse.
But McDaniel can coach.
Just look at the development of Tua Tagovailoa. He took the offense from 25th ranked in 2021, to sixth in 2022. And this year, they’re first by a longshot. And they haven’t really fallen off defensively in yards allowed.
Mike McDaniel’s credibility is set in stone. You have to score to win in this league, and a game like this on the back of the season he had last year ensures that he’ll be employed in this league for as long as he wants to be.
At a minimum this man is the next Norv Turner.
Next, Tua is Enough
Tua Tagovailoa can run this offense, and he can run it as well as anyone you might want to be in his position.
As long as this offensive line can keep him healthy.
The Miami Dolphins have been desperate for a franchise QB as much as any franchise over the last 30 years outside of the Chicago Bears, and even though Tua has had some good games in his first four seasons, there’s always that little bit of doubt.
70 points, plus the fact that he’s on pace for a 5,800 yard season should put all those doubts to a permanent rest.
Third- Sean Payton Hates Russell Wilson
He has to.
If you have a franchise QB getting franchise money, you protect him. Trotting this man out there in the second half down 50 points is embarrassing. It means you don’t care if you lose him.
If it’s really like that, then get the Jets on the phone and start the process to move him so you can score some assets and maybe get the Dolphins back for this game by giving their division rival a chance to win this season.
Four- Vance Joseph Has to Go… Again
Sean Payton making the decision to bring one of the least-liked Head Coaches in Denver Broncos history back to be his defensive coordinator was as head-scratching as Vance Joseph’s decision to accept it.
Denver Broncos Head Coaching history is a long list of extraordinary winners- Red Miller, Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Fox, and Gary Kubiak kept this franchise relevant for the overwhelming majority of four decades. A lot of Broncos fans believe their downfall started when Vance Joseph was first hired, and having him around again, and in charge of the unit that just gave up a historic number, is a true exercise in hubris for Sean Payton.
And finally, the last thing we learned for this 70-point game is that…
…Mercy is Worse than Death.
Mike McDaniels, a former Denver Broncos ball boy that didn’t even get an interview from his hometown team in 2022, had the ability to break the NFL record of 72, and he decided that didn’t fit with the message he was trying to send his team.
There’s a backlash to the Deion Sanders hype, and an even bigger backlash to the backlash.
What’s really going on here?
Let’s talk about it.
If you’re a millennial college football fan, this message isn’t for you. Deion Sanders has been famous your entire life. You watched him be a four year starter at Florida State, spending his last two years as the best player on a team that never left the top 10. You watched him be a first round pick and go to pro bowls in Atlanta, and win Super Bowls in San Francisco- where he won a defensive MVP, and Dallas- where he played on both sides of the ball. You watched him take several years off and then come back in his late 30’s and play at a high level with the Ravens. He’s likely a top 3 corner, and a top 3 kick returner of your lifetime. And if you’re a baseball fan, you watched this man play in New York, the Bay, in Cincinnati, and you watched him hit over .500 in a World Series with five stolen bases in four games in Atlanta. This man led the league in triples once despite only being available for 60% of the season.
On top of all that, Prime has been the coolest man in whatever room he’s been in going on five decades now, and he’s been in a lot of very important rooms.
And that’s the common ground that we should all be able to agree on- that for better or worse, there is an extreme appetite to consume all things related to Deion Sanders.
Think of it in food terms, there wasn’t a fast food chicken sandwich war because people weren’t eating chicken sandwiches.
College football is a business, and the market picks and chooses what people want to see, It might not be what you want to see, but we live in a “majority rules” society, and there’s no college football capitol you can go storm if you don’t get your way.
But to be fair to the people that are sick of hearing about Deion, that needle is getting moved by people that aren’t just fans of college football, but people who are fans of celebrity, and by people who also just get caught up in whatever is trending.
Deion Sanders is growing the game. He’s making new college football fans. And what’s a synonym for a brand new person? A baby.
Babies are a lot of things. They’re cute. They represent hope for a bright future. But they’re also loud. And emotional. And needy. And they believe the world ends and begins with their mom or dad.
And so this last weekend, you had a bunch of toddler Colorado fans running around saying “my dad could beat up your dad” in regards to Oregon, because what they do know is that they love their dad, and they’ve seen him do wonderful things.
But what they don’t know is that the other dad they’re talking about spent the last decade as a professional Buffalo hunting maniac.
Deion’s fans are going to learn what every young college football fan learns, the field tells the truth.
In the end, it’s worth it to deal with these new fans. The ends will justify the means, I promise you that. There’s nothing like college football, and seeing Colorado games sold out at home, and on the road, is incredible.
But just because these fans are new, doesn’t mean that some of their complaints aren’t rooted in truth.
Let’s get into the backlash to the backlash- and if you think I’m going to say it’s boiler-plate racism, you’re wrong.
College football has a scarcity issue.
There are only a handful of teams that make the playoff. There are only a handful of game-changing recruits. There are only a handful of, excuse the pun, primetime television spots.
The entire point of this sport is to scratch and claw your way to the top of the mountain, and then once you’re up there, turn around and kick the people that are trying to get on your level, right in the face.
Guys like Dan Lanning, Marcus Freeman, Ryan Day and Mike Norvell are on their way up that Mountain. Guys like Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, and Kirby Smart are already there.
Colorado’s slogan is “We Coming.”
And what Deion Sanders means by that, is “we coming up that mountain to throw your ass down it.”
Nobody that isn’t a Colorado fan, a Deion fan, or a fan of a team that will never reach the top themselves, wants that to happen.
And real college football fans know this movement has substance. Do you think the best athletes on earth want to play in Tuscaloosa, Alabama because of its pristine beaches and majestic waterfalls? No, they want to be on the biggest stage. And wherever Deion Sanders goes, he brings a pretty damn big stage with him.
And that stage that Deion brings makes the people aware of the scarcity of college football feel a little bit of fear, and a whole lot of jealousy.
So yes, they are rooting on Deion Sanders to fail. Because his success means someone else is falling down that cliffside. And they aren’t just rooting for Deion to fail because he’s black- they want that same level of failure for Lincoln Riley, Steve Sarkisian, and Billy Napier. The whitest of whites.
But we’d be fools to not address the elephant in the room.
Deion Sanders is black. He’s proud of being black. More importantly, he’s proud of being a non-sanitized version of a black man. He’s proud to be himself. And he’s extremely outspoken about his desire to see black Americans prosper.
And the objective truth in this country is that black men and women have been systematically excluded from sharing in all of the privileges that this wonderful country, with all of its wonderful ideals, has allowed to some of its lesser melanized citizens.
Things are better than they’ve ever been, and I’m grateful for that, but the football coaching profession is one of those things that you’d have to be an actual robe-wearing klansmen to say has made “too much” progress.
So you have to understand how the exclusionary nature of college football, whose entire point is to get yours and keep others from getting theirs, looks and feels to black fans that are used to that particular mindset being the exact delivery method for real issues of racism that they face out in the real world.
From an outside perspective, you have a successful black man that doesn’t drink, doesn’t cuss, loves Jesus, loves his mama, and uses his platform to promote hard work and education to the youth of this country, making waves in a profession where not many people in power look like him, and nobody in power acts like him- and the negative response to that is often very loud, and very critical.
Excuse me if I don’t blame people for feeling like this is race issue, even if that’s not the whole truth.
And I know I’m going to get people in my mentions saying that I’m just sticking up for Deion and his fans because I’m black too. They’ve been there every single time I’ve mentioned Deion Sanders’ name.
But I’m not worried about those people. They’re not in positions of power. In fact, it’s because those people have never had any power or control over a single thing in their entire life, that they get mad when they turn on the TV and see an interracial couple in a Mountain Dew commercial. So of course they’re gonna be mad when every channel on their television is talking about “Coach Prime.”
Hopefully this helped explain the disconnect. New college football fans, and the ones that have been in the trenches have about as much in common as an infant and a boomer. Outside of the fact they both get a little cranky.
College football isn’t inherently racist, and even though it’s structure has plenty of evidence that systematic racism is at play, it also boasts as good of a merit-based system as any industry in America.
Most people that hate Deion Sanders don’t hate him because he’s a threatening black man, they just hate him because he’s threatening their place in the college football ecosystem, and he happens to be black.
And Colorado is better at football than they’ve been in a long time because of Deion Sanders, but that doesn’t mean your dad can beat up my dad.
George Wrighster interviews Oregon Equipment Manager Kenny Farr about his 20 years in Eugene, his favorite uniform combinations, what new and exciting things the Ducks have planned for 2023, and how the profession has evolved.
How many of you have heard this phrase in relation to the need for athletes to study the playbook and take care of their bodies?
I’m here to tell you that the benefits of availability don’t just apply to the players on the field or court, but it’s also the most important thing when it comes to the ability to consume what happens on the field or court.
Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia just sacrificed tens of millions of dollars every single year to make sure that his team’s games are available to local fans for free, and it could be the game changer that the entire sports world needs to keep fans from being collateral damage in the war between cable companies and streaming platforms.
To understand why he did this, and why there was a need for him to do this, let’s go back to the beginning.
As social media and streamers started to take attention away from the live TV experience, it became clear to TV executives and advertising agencies that the future of fixed consumer attention was going to be live sports.
This kicked off a nuclear war for broadcast rights, which meant that only a handful of billion dollar national corporations would be able to compete for the ability to show you games. It also meant that local TV corporations were squeezed out of the market, as were people that didn’t have the monthly income to be able to budget for ever-increasing cable bills.
The sales of these broadcast rights end up putting a giant pile of guaranteed money into a pool for the teams in each league to split. Owners loved it for the obvious reason that it rapidly increased their personal wealth, as well as their franchise value- but it also provided them with the stability of an expected income and operating budget.
For the involved and competitive owners, the guaranteed income from broadcast rights gave them ways to innovate and compete- which offset the inconvenience and added expense to the fans.
For the unengaged slumlord weirdos like Donald Sterling, it just meant he got richer while Clippers fans suffered. Which is why the fact Clippers fans exist will never make sense to me, but that’s another rant for another day.
The bottom line is this- as less and less of the operational budget came from local fans, owners were less and less motivated to appease the local fans. Tickets became less affordable. Players became less relatable.
We went from four NBA players making $7+ million per year in 1995, to the Houston Rockets paying John Wall $40 million a year just to stay home. Mike Conley is going to surpass $270 million in career earnings this season and has made one all star game.
And in order to watch John Wall not play, or see Mike Conley put up Jeff Hornacek stat lines for ten times the cost, fans were having to shell out more and more money every single year.
It’s unsustainable, but when you’re profiting from it, there’s no motivation to see things change.
I grew up watching the Lakers on KCal on channel 9. Those were formative experiences for me. Experiences that I know haven’t been available to more and more families who, even if they had the ability to afford cable, are having to make sacrifices to simply pay their increasing grocery bills.
So that’s where Mat Ishbia comes in- when Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they had to sell off the regional sports networks to avoid the government coming down on them for a monopoly.
Teams like the Phoenix Suns were faced with a tough choice to negotiate lesser payments in their revenue share agreements- and when you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, it really seemed like the only choice.
Get this- The switch to local over-the-air stations will triple the reach of Suns and Mercury games to more than 2.8 million households.
As a college football fan, this is both music to my ears, and the most infuriating thing on the planet. The Pac-12 spent the last decade throttling availability in order to preserve and protect its television rights, and the conference died alone in its home like a hoarder surrounded by old newspapers.
Meanwhile the SEC’s deal with CBS, the channel that most televisions just get left on all day in boomer households, resulted in a three billion dollar rights deal with Disney. Is it because it really just means more in the south?
No! It was availability!
Mat Ishbia might be sacrificing tens of millions per year in the short term, but when you invest in your fans, it comes back to you. Hopefully, for the future of sports, and the longterm benefit of everyone, more rich men in suits follow Ishbia’s lead on this.