By Teddy Hayduk
on twitter: @TMHayduk
If you’re an FSU fan who has been recoiling for the past thirteen or so hours in response to the release of the CFB committee’s Top 4 this week, I am here to quell your fears. If you are worried and mad and fearing being left out of the Playoff, I am here to console you. If you honestly think that ESPN has some kind of unhealthy, inferiority-complex-fueled, SEC-spawned desire to cause FSU pain and anguish, I am here to tell you you’re wrong.
Here’s the deal. Sports make money because fans—the people who watch on tv and in the stands—don’t know how each matchup will end. Movies and tv shows are different because to an extent, there is a formula for success. There is a script. The end, no matter how shocking or convoluted (HOLY SHIT HE WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME) is pre-determined, and we know that. In sports, however, the results are solely a function of fate and, sometimes, luck. It is completely unwritten and impromptu. The less confident we feel about the probability of either team winning a game, the more inclined we will be to watch it—this is called having a high degree of product appeal. In a sport marketer’s perfect world, every matchup would create an exactly even, 50/50 chance for each team to win. This is why the NFL operates with a centralized authority. Having the ability to keep all 32 of its franchises as resource-homogeneous as possible (revenue), while employing strict salary caps and floors (expenditures), creates a league of 32 nearly identical teams. This, boys and girls, is called having a high degree of parity. A high degree of parity means that the NFL will probably exceed Roger Goodell’s goal of generating $25 billion in annual revenue by 2017.
Now—onward to CFB. CFB’s governing body, the NCAA, obviously cannot use monetary incentives to keep teams and conferences competitive with one another (wink wink). Furthermore, the ideals of amateurism, alumni network donations, and the individual educational goals and talent levels of recruits tend to create a naturally disparate hierarchy. In other words, MIT will probably never compete for a national title, and it is also equally unlikely that Alabama, Texas, Michigan, and UF will ever fall from the elite echelon of CFB programs. What this means is that CFB places itself into the opposite end of the parity spectrum than does the NFL. As we learned, a high degree of parity equals a high viewership rate, which equals higher TV and radio ratings, which equals a multitude of revenue-generating leverage points. The converse of this holds true, as well. CFB knows that having low parity hinders their chances to keep viewership rates high and therefore be able to negotiate even larger contracts in the future.
So, what does all of this mean, young grasshopper? Here’s what it means: ESPN and their subsidiary networks have nothing against FSU specifically. *ducks to avoid flying objects from FSU fans* No, seriously, they don’t. All the folks in Connecticut are trying to do is create the illusion of parity in a sport that has virtually none. Since the inception of the CFB game, the same programs have dominated and will continue to dominate. Will they lose some games here and there? Sure. That’s why sports are amazing. That’s part of the spectacle. But if you took a time machine 50 years into the future, and CFB is still around (a topic for a different debate), it would still be the best 15 or so programs in the running for a national title every year.
In order to generate viewership in the long run, they need to trick a fringe audience into believing that any team can lose on any given Saturday via an onslaught of sensationalist, spiteful, unbalanced, unscrupulous reporting tactics. Whether it’s FSU bearing the brunt of this process makes no difference to them. They aren’t incentivized to cast disdain upon or openly praise FSU, Oregon, TCU, or the SEC. From an economist’s standpoint, all they are incentivized to do is generate profit and enhance the utility (wellbeing) of their primary stakeholder groups. Hooray capitalism!
Look, as a final note: don't get your panties in a wad because FSU is now number 3. Be skeptical, question everything, do your own research, etc. But don't let something like this ruin your week. There's still plenty of football to be played, and if we know anything about Oregon, it's that they will fold under pressure. Go Noles, Go Capitalism, Go America.