Only 87 days!
Just 87 days until a horde of green-clad warriors charges out onto the beautiful, green field of Spartan Stadium to a huge crowd of raving fans. A mere 87 days until fans and players alike can celebrate the start of a new college football season.
While summer has only just begun, Michigan State fans are already counting down to August 29, the date of MSU’s home opener against Jacksonville State.
Who can blame them? After an exciting season that ended in a Rose Bowl victory, Spartan fans have plenty to look forward to this season.
The countdown doesn’t just signify enthusiasm at an up-and-coming program. It also points to a change in college football. The sport has become a year-round affair. The schedule has been expanded, spring football has become more prominent, and recruiting is much more publicized.
One could even argue that college football is challenging the NFL in terms of year-round significance. Recruiting coverage has increased hundredfold, keeping college football in the news in the offseason.
The legendary Alabama Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once called in the Alabama daily papers to his office. He then proceeded to inform them that, “Every day in the paper I will see an Alabama football story.”
Everywhere in America that is the norm now. Football is in the heart of the American people.
For better or worse, this is the new reality. How did college football become a year-round spectacle?
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1950s and 1960s, Michigan State teams began the season in late September. Most teams played nine-game schedules, with the best teams playing in a handful of postseason games, such as the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.
Change crept into college football in the 1970s, as teams gradually added games to their schedules to increase revenue.
It was a Supreme Court lawsuit that opened the door for today’s college football media landscape: NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.
The case was filed in 1981 and came to the Supreme Court in 1984. Oklahoma and the University of Georgia alleged that the NCAA’s television plan was in direct violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Court ruled in favor of Oklahoma and Georgia, 7-2. (1).
Prior to the handing down of the decision, the NCAA restricted a team to six appearances over two seasons on national television, and was solely responsible for judging which games would be broadcasted both regionally and nationally. (2) Following the decision, teams controlled their own television rights.
The Big Ten and Pac 10 immediately sold their rights to ABC. The 63 teams in other major conferences came together to form the College Football Association. The CFA wanted more games on the air, but wanted to limit the total number in order to drive up the price of television rights for the networks.
The CFA splintered in the 1990s as Notre Dame sold its rights to NBC, the SEC and Big East signed a deal with CBS, and ESPN stepped into the picture.
Increased demand from college football fans drove up the price of television rights and advertising, also leading to more college football coverage on more channels. An increase in the length of the regular season and a huge uptick in bowl games were other results.
The Big Ten Network was born as a result of a changing media landscape. Commissioner Jim Delany and the conference envisioned the network (launched in 2007) as a way to increase revenue. Michigan State reaps a nice reward from the network each year, a reported total of about $7.6 million in 2013. (3)
There are two ways to look at all of this: 1. College football is reaching a “saturation point,” meaning the media coverage is too constant and turning off potential fans, or: 2. College football fans benefit from the increased coverage and can now follow their favorite team closer than ever.
Either way, Michigan State football benefits from the current state of affairs. The program is set to bring in an estimated $30.9 million in 2014-15 between revenue from the Big Ten Network and the conference’s contract with ESPN. (4)
MSU’s TV revenues will only rise in the future. The Big Ten’s 10-year contract with ESPN expires in 2016, which means that a more lucrative TV contract is on the horizon. The Big Ten predicts that each school, MSU included, will receive $44.5 million in TV revenues for the 2017-18 school year. (5)
Spartan fans also benefit from these big paydays. Michigan State can afford to spend more on its football program. An increased budget allows the program to retain its talented coaches and cast a wider recruiting net. This creates a better on-field product for MSU fans to enjoy.
With increased media exposure, Green and White faithful enjoy more coverage of the Spartans. Following the team becomes easy even if you live far away from East Lansing.
No matter your feelings on college football’s transformation, only 87 days separate us from kickoff. Hold on just a little while longer, Spartan Nation. The joy, beauty, and excitement of a new season aren’t far away.