College football is a sport nagged by two old problems.
The first is the debate to compensate student-athletes. Every year, TV networks, conferences, universities, and coaching staffs bank tens of millions off the backs of amateur status players who receive no more than glory and possibly a scholarship.
The second is diversifying the field of schools competing for the College Football Playoff (CFP). The NCAA’s official roadway to the national championship is prone to overlook worthy programs outside of two or three major conferences.
A solution to these problems, or at least a fair way to shake up the status quo, comes from live streaming college football games.
Streaming is the future of viewership
Cable subscriber numbers are dwindling in the US as TV viewers cut the cord in favor of streaming services. This trend is popular with digital native Millennial and Generation Z watchers who are accustomed to the on-demand and personalized experiences of streaming content.
Sports media operators are taking notice. Recent years have seen a 53 percent year-on-year increase in sports media streaming. Operators are expected to spend $6.8 billion or 15 percent of budgets on streaming by 2021.
A large portion of that investment is going towards enhancing the user experience of streaming. As a result, live matches broadcast online may soon look very different from their traditional TV counterparts.
Streaming opens up a range of unique, interactive features that TV simply can’t deliver. Imagine choosing different viewing angles, engaging with embedded gaming and social apps, and accessing personalized data about your favorite teams as they play.
Revenue for player compensation
Compensating college athletes is a historically hot button topic that’s experienced a renewed interest in recent months thanks to Zion Williamson’s knee injury. The idea seems to come part and parcel with college football’s looming streaming revolution.
Some capable minds inside and outside of college football think it’s time to toss student-athletes a bone.
Former NFL linebacker-turned-venture capitalist Ryan Nece is one. He sees a future where big tech companies, say Amazon or Netflix, invest in a la carte game streams.
Participating schools would get their fair share of the funds, and money would trickle down to the players in a form that could be additional scholarships, gifts, endorsements, or revenue shares.
It’s an arrangement that Nece would have financially benefited from during his college career at UCLA.
An expanded CFP field
If you follow the college football national championship playoff odds, you know there hasn’t been much variety amongst top teams in recent seasons. This year is no different as Clemson and LSU, ACC, and SEC powerhouses, respectively, prepare to battle for the national title.
The 2019 championship game featured Clemson and Alabama, a perennial contender from the SEC. In fact, the last time a non-SEC or ACC team appeared in the championship clash was 2015 when Ohio State (Big Ten) defeated Oregon (Pac-12).
Whether intentional or not, the CFP-era since 2014 has a tangible bias towards the southeast conferences of the Power Five, a cohort of college football’s elite conferences – the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12.
The current system is flawed. It also breeds contention, as evidenced in 2017, when UCF, playing in the AAC conference, claimed the national championship. The Knights defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl en route to a perfect 13-0 record that season.
One can’t help wonder if the lucrative, multi-year TV contracts – and subsequent exposure – enjoyed by Power Five schools plays a hand in CFP seeding. Streaming could theoretically level the playing field for mid-major programs lagging behind.
Conferences and schools outside of the Power Five stand to gain a fairer representation when audiences have more choice in the games they watch.
Still, it may take Power Five conferences to be the giants that lure tech companies into a massive college football takeover. The time is coming. The SEC’s current TV contract with CBS expires at the end of 2023.
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Alex Mertz. The photo “Wilson American football” has been done by Dave Adamson.
Source: Sam Sharpless (Athlete Network) / Oddschecker winner table
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