Don't bother suggesting college football. The college schedules are either 56-3 blowouts (as the recent OU vs Kansas game) or full of meaningless "bowl" games. Besides, colleges and universities these days are becoming indoctrination factories anyway. Why would I want to support a sports team from a place that is more interested in politically correct speech than the true search for truth?
I saw this article from the Weekly Standard, and it summarized well what I've been thinking. The direct link to the article is HERE.
The NFL Is in Decline
From the October 31, 2016, issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.10:45 AM, Oct 23, 2016 | By Geoffrey Norman
The game wasn't much fun to watch. It was one of those blowouts with things pretty much settled long before the fourth quarter was over. There were the usual penalties, with the officials meeting to discuss whodunit and what to call. These provided opportunities for what are described by the announcers as a "break in the action." Those would be commercials for everything from Viagra to life insurance. For some reason, there don't seem to be as many beer commercials as there once were. Beer and tires propped up the NFL on television for many years. Perhaps the same guys who used to buy the beer and tires are now thinking Viagra and life insurance.
When there was action on the field, it was often lackluster and sloppy. There was one play that seemed to sum it up. A receiver for the San Francisco 49ers shook loose and was wide open downfield. The Buffalo Bills' defense was guilty, of course, of what the announcers call "blown coverage," and the play should have gone for an easy touchdown. The quarterback, however, underthrew the ball so badly that the receiver was obliged to stand still and wait for it to come to him. He might have been a center fielder parking himself under a high pop fly. He could have read a newspaper in the time it took the ball to reach him. When it did finally arrive, so had one of the Buffalo defenders. The play went for a big gain but was aesthetically unsatisfying. As was almost everything about the game.
And then there was the political stuff. The quarterback who launched that wounded duck of a pass was Colin Kaepernick. He had just missed winning a Super Bowl three years ago. These days, he is a backup. But he had started this game against the Bills, because the 49ers had lost four games in a row. So Kaepernick started against the Buffalo Bills because . . . well, probably because the coach thought, "Why not? He can't do any worse."
Before that, when he was still on the bench, Kaepernick had managed to make himself more conspicuous than just about any professional football player, with the possible exception of the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who returned in glory from his four-game suspension (about which we all have heard enough) throwing the ball (properly inflated, no doubt) as accurately as ever. Kaepernick, who doesn't have Brady's arm, had been making news by making a political statement. When "The Star-Spangled Banner" was performed before kickoffs, he would sit or "take a knee," instead of standing. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. It was a protest, a gesture of solidarity, a statement . . . and so on and so forth.
It was also a possible suspect in the whodunit that has consumed professional football this year. Namely, what has happened to the NFL's TV ratings? To say that the NFL is the top-drawing sport on the small screen is an understatement. Last season, NFL games, starting with the Super Bowl (114 million viewers), accounted for 14 of the 15 most-viewed sporting events. (The college football championship game sneaked in at No. 7.) Indeed, the NFL accounted for 34 of the top 40 televised games. The remainder were college football bowls, the women's World Cup soccer finals, at No. 26, and Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals—aka the LeBron James-Stephen Curry show—at No. 40.
This fall, though, the NFL's popularity has declined enough to be cause for notice and alarm. When ratings slide, the NFL takes a hit not only in its bottom line—which it can afford—but also in its sense of inevitability, which is more dangerous to its psyche. The National Football League aspires to own the entertainment sphere—to "dominate," as sports lingo would have it. So when ratings declined 11 percent early this season, NFL headquarters sent out a dispatch to all commands, seeking to explain and reassure.
The NFL's explanations were mostly evasions, which we shall come to in a moment. But first let us separate the short term from the long term in this discussion. As John Maynard Keynes so pungently reminded us, "In the long term we are all dead." The only question is: "How long is . . . well, long?"
For the NFL, not very, according to some who have studied the question. There have been signals that the NFL—and all of football—may soon be in for hard times. The game is increasingly brutal, and that brutality is not some fixable flaw. Football is violent by nature, and if you take away the violence, you have soccer without the grace. There is undeniable evidence of brain damage among former football players, some of whom suffer dementia and a few of whom have committed suicide, the reasons for which are unknowable but might plausibly include the beatings they took from the game. Improvements in equipment and changes in the rules might make the game marginally safer, but perhaps not by enough to keep the lawyers outside the ramparts or, more important, persuade parents that they should let their children play the game. Even without the prospect of lasting brain damage, the game is too rough for many with today's tender sensibilities.
But that is long term. For now, the supply of eager players seems adequate to the needs of the game. And the fans don't seem to mind the big hits. Not, that is, until they are too big. Occasionally, a player has to be strapped to a board before he can be carted off the field to receive medical attention and learn if—as occasionally happens in football—he has been injured in a way that will leave him paralyzed for life.
Still, the violence and the injuries are threats to the popularity of the game down the road and don't seem to have accounted for the precipitous falloff in this season's television ratings. So there are several other theories advanced to account for this drop. Among the least plausible would seem to be the one put forward by the NFL in its memo from the head office to its various franchises—namely, that it is an election year and people have been distracted by politics.
To which one says, huh? An election year might distract people from their normal interests. That's plausible. But this year? If the competing attraction is Clinton vs. Trump, then it would seem any football game—any athletic event from golf to rollerblade—would be a welcome distraction. Now it might be that the campaign is so demoralizing to some people that they cannot respond to even the normal stimuli: that the world has turned monochromatic, that they cannot taste food or respond to a child's laughter and are content to simply stay inside and stare at the walls. But there can't be that many of them. For most reliable NFL fans, even a mediocre game would seem preferable to dwelling on the state to which American political life has been reduced this year.
Millions, certainly, who tuned in to watch the Jacksonville Jaguars battle the Indianapolis Colts in London at 9:30 a.m. one recent Sunday must have felt some relief that they had an alternative to Meet the Press. It was a lousy game, as those London games usually are. But it was better than Chuck Todd grilling Chuck Schumer or whomever.
To extend the argument that the decline in football ratings is the result of an intrusion by politics, there is the matter of Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem. It's been argued this may have turned some people off the game. They are purists, perhaps, and resent the intrusion of any politics into the game. Or they are patriots and despise gestures of disrespect to flag and country by millionaire, prima donna athletes. Football fans tend to be traditionalists that way.
It could be that some former fans have abandoned the games as the p.c. virus has slowly infected the NFL. One suspects there are plenty of people who quit watching the Academy Awards because they couldn't stand listening to political speeches that pegged the needle in both sanctimony and stupidity.
On the other hand, with football you can let the offenders know how you feel, and this may be an incentive to go to the stadium and do what the good people of Buffalo did as their team annihilated Kaepernick's 49ers. They booed him mercilessly, and good for them.
There may have been a few people out in television land who decided not to tune in and watch the game because they were turned off by Kaepernick and his "protest," but not enough, one would think, to account for more than a point or two in that ratings falloff.
One suspects, in the end, that the problem is much less to do with politics than with the games themselves.
This is an increasingly common complaint among disaffected NFL fans, and it struck me with particular force once the Bills had put the 49ers out of their misery, 45 to 16, in a game with five fumbles on a dry field and a combined 13 penalties. After the game, Kaepernick made one of those statements of conscience, saying, 'I don't understand what's un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everybody, for the equality this country says it stands for. To me, I see it as very patriotic and American to uphold the United States to the standards that it says it lives by."
But millions of fans had, by then, changed channels and were watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Green Bay Packers. This game was played in Green Bay, which is a small, blue-collar city in Wisconsin. It's one of those places on the perimeter of the Great Lakes where the Industrial Revolution sowed seeds that sprouted into thousands of factories and a tough, working-class culture of the sort that is dying off so painfully today. Professional football was a product of these towns and cities, and Green Bay might be the most pure of all football franchises. The town, which has a population of just over 100,000, famously, and uniquely, owns the team.
And the citizens are not passive owners. They care about their Packers, they are emotionally invested in them, and the team has paid dividends for years. So many great players. So many championships. So many memorable games.
One of the most memorable was played against the Dallas Cowboys, who were newcomers to the NFL, on the last day of 1967. The game was known forever more as the "Ice Bowl." The temperature at kickoff was -13 degrees (-48 windchill). The whistle blown by the official to signal the start of the game froze to his lips. When he removed the whistle from his mouth, skin from his lips came with it. The blood did not clot; it froze. He spoke through the scabs for the rest of the game.
This was watched by more than 50,000 people in the stands of an open-air stadium on seats that did not, many of them, have backs. Four of these fans had heart attacks. Many more were treated for exposure. The Packers came from behind and won on a last-minute, one-yard sneak by a quarterback named Starr whose parents must have known he would one day grow up and find glory on the football field and so called him Bart. A century earlier, he would have been the sheriff of Tombstone.
It was a game for the ages and none who watched in person, or on television, would ever forget it or have described it as "entertainment." You don't sit outside for three hours in subzero weather to be "entertained," no matter how much schnapps you have in your thermos. Certainly none of those 50,000 Packers fans who sat in the Arctic cold would have called the game entertaining. They might have fallen back on the old line about how it wasn't life or death; it was a lot more important than that.
The Packers fans who watched this season's game against the Cowboys, almost half a century after the Ice Bowl, actually booed the team they own. The Packers' play was that much of a mess, and the Cowboys handled them easily. And if watching in person was painful for a Packers fan, watching on the television was, too. Painful even if you didn't have a dog in the hunt.
There were so many commercials, for one thing. The NFL and the networks have crafted a way to squeeze the maximum number of ads into the broadcast of a single game, causing viewers to lose interest even as they watch. According to some studies, the average football game, during which the clock runs for precisely 60 minutes, consists of a mere 11 minutes of action. And this is stretched out over almost four hours of broadcast time. The networks are wearing down the stamina of their viewers. Their most aggravating tactic is to cut to a commercial after a score, return to "the action" for the kickoff that more and more these days is a mere formality. The kicker boots the ball through the end-zone. It is then placed on the 25-yard line, and before the opposing team takes over there, they cut to yet another commercial. If you cared about the game before the first commercial break, the second one will test your commitment as a fan.
This commitment has probably already been strained by the poor quality of the play. The Packers fans did not boo simply because their team was losing. Even good teams get beat. They booed because the Packers were playing consistently sloppy football.
And why was this? It's hard to say. But it can't help that the games are too long and that the rhythm of play is disrupted, over and over, by the networks' need to "take a break from the action." And then, the team rosters change almost constantly. Players are out for injury, lost to free agency, suspended for one reason or another. Teams do not stick together and operate as a unit the way they once did. A Green Bay fan could name every starter on that 1967 championship team (and many still can to this day). The lineup had not changed very much from the year before or the year before that. Teams today are put together on the fly. Season to season. Game to game. Even within the game. There is no continuity. No real sense of "team."
And then there is the officiating. So many penalties and so many replays, many of which don't really settle anything. They do, however, slow things down.
The long and the short of it is that the games take too long, and too many are indifferently played by teams that don't really seem to be teams so much as collections of random players who might as well have been selected in a session of "choose up."
And yet, as the quality of the product declines, the NFL seeks to expand the brand. There are those games abroad, in London and Mexico City. There is talk of other venues to which American football might be exported. And all of this "marketing" goes on even as the "base"—that core consumer in Green Bay and elsewhere, who understands the game and brings his own kind of commitment when he watches his team play—grows increasingly disaffected. The NFL, it sometimes seems, is determined to ape the decline of NASCAR, which sought to expand its reach to venues where stock car racing was a novelty—"entertainment"—at the expense of those places where it was in the blood. Loudon, New Hampshire, will never be Darlington, South Carolina, any more than London, England, will ever be Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Perhaps there is a grand strategy at work here. Maybe the NFL calculates that the game's own violence will drive it to extinction sooner rather than later. And before that happens, they intend to take advantage of every last commercial minute and each and every untapped venue. The seasons will get longer, games will be played in more and more exotic locations, the number of timeouts will increase, and Viagra sales will be maximized—all before those life insurance policies pay out.
"That's entertainment," as they say. And more and more fans will no doubt respond by saying, "Well, if that's entertainment, I say the hell with it."
Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.