Football Friday: NFL popularity, college football attendance and the importance of assistant coaches

The Cincinnati Bengals kicked off training camp Friday, July 29 at their practice fields near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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The Cincinnati Bengals kicked off training camp Friday, July 29 at their practice fields near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The football offseason is here, sadly, but football never stops. 

From recruiting to the draft to spring practice, free agency, offseason workouts and relentless random drama, the gridiron game is pretty good at remaining in the news. 

Keeping up with all of it can be difficult, though, especially if you have any interest in, you know, other sports that are actually playing games right now. 

That said, there’s no such thing as too much football, so I’m going to try to stop at least once each week to highlight what’s going on with the game. 

Friday makes the most sense, right? 

Well, we’ll see how long I can actually keep it up, but here are some things that caught my eye this week: 

ESPN had a really good story about the popularity of the NFL. 

In my view, Mina Kimes did an excellent job examining a topic that has become rather tortured over the past two years.

It doesn’t gloss over problems nor overemphasize any of them, either, which puts her in the minority of people who have tried to tackle this topic.

At this point, I have come to the conclusion just about everything that has been cited as a possible reason for declining TV ratings has had some effect.

That includes changing viewing habits, lack of mainstream stars because of retirements and injuries, non-competitive prime-time games, pace of play, confusing rules, legal issues (domestic violence, drugs, etc.), revelations about the true toll head injuries have taken on some players and, yes, the protests during the national anthem.

I don’t think any of those things individually have made a major impact (aside perhaps from the first one, which has hurt TV at large more than the NFL), but there’s fairly solid evidence all of them have had at least some impact.

I don’t think people are turning off the NFL in droves because of the protests, but I know of real-life examples of some who have, so the impact is certainly more than zero. (That goes for those unhappy with the protests and those who think Colin Kaepernick has been treated unfairly, too.)

Stars help draw in the casual viewers who make the difference between good and great ratings, and fewer people are going to keep watching if the score gets out of hand.

That’s just common sense.

Also: While average viewing time decreased again (that’s what ratings measure), roughly the same total number people still tuned in. That was also true last year, and it suggests overall interest has remained at or near same level.

However, the NFL has cannibalized itself by adding more viewing windows which water down the average ratings but still engage a whole bunch of people.

If the audience is more spread out but still there, that’s probably fine with the NFL as long as the league can stomach the near-constant negativity from the people who are too lazy to look beyond what they want the answer to be.

That sees to be most people — but fortunately not Mina Kimes…

This week also brought word major college football attendance suffered a steep decline. 

I think a lot of people are examining this issue from the wrong end.

The value of attending games probably has not decreased much, if at all, in the eyes of the public.

Considering the major cost and inconvenience of attendance compared to staying at home, it’s probably a miracle anyone still goes to games to major sporting events at all.

And yet millions of people do, so that should tell us something about the true value with the public.

That’s also probably why attendance remains solid at lower-profile sports like minor league baseball and soccer, where the price is much more agreeable.

Those sports are not facing any less outside competition than the major sports are and they have smaller fanbases, but they still enjoy consistent crowds because people needs things to do and there’s still something fun about getting out and enjoying a sporting event with a few thousand other people live and in person.

Obviously the appeal of staying home has grown, especially since so many more games are on TV now (I’d rather watch three or four games in a day than one, a choice that was not so readily available even a decade ago) but the game-day experience is still strong enough to overcome that for millions of people, so maybe the powers that be are worried about the wrong end of the spectrum.

That said, the game-day experience has eroded.

With the terrible pace of play in football, basketball and baseball currently and the lack of ability to communicate consistently, I don’t blame students for being less interested in going.

Especially because of, you guessed it, the aforementioned cost and the ability to watch more games at once at home.

The good news here, though, if I am right is that nothing too drastic needs to be done.

Thanks to the influx of TV money, the cost of attendance can be slashed, and those pace-of-play issues can be addressed, too.

Do those two things and I think attendance issues will be solved.

Lastly, the issue of college football coaching pay was raised this week because Ohio State made a big deal about giving raises to all of its assistants. 

To be honest, I don’t care much about how much money pro athletes and coaches make anymore.

It’s been Monopoly money for nearly my whole life, and I know it’s always going to go up because I have a basic understanding of economics.

At the professional level, it matters in terms of what my team can afford to do (especially if there is a salary cap), but as far as the raw salary figures? Yeah, I don’t care. It has zero effect on my life if Bryce Harper makes $4 million or $40 million next year.

I also understand there’s a big divide in how college coaches and college players are compensated, but that’s a debate better left to another day.

For now, coaches operate on an open market, and that market determines their value, whatever that might turn out to be.

So I found this take from at odds with reality.

Because you know what they say about college football.

Assistant coaches are the most important part of the program.

Right after the players, the head coach, the facilities, the NFL track record, the locker rooms, the alternate uniforms, the stadium, the fanbase, the national TV exposure and the flavor of the smoothies at the juice bar at the program headquarters, assistant coaches are the key to building a successful program.

It is not wholly without merit — some assistants are replaceable, no question — but it kind of loses steam if you’re aware Urban Meyer losing his assistants at Florida literally ruined the program to the point it has still not recovered, Ohio State’s offense has been a tire fire since offensive coordinator Tom Herman left three years ago and the defense (and safety play) got a lot better after Everett Withers was replaced.

Furthermore, Ohio State had a new linebackers coach this year, and the linebackers weren’t as good as they were the year before.

The Buckeyes got a new quarterbacks coach, and the quarterbacks played better.

Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Aside from that, it’s pretty common knowledge assistants are crucial in recruiting.

No matter how good the head coach is at recruiting, he is not the one forging the relationships that ultimate decide most recruiting battles.

That is the assistants, so rating them collectively behind everything but the actual players and the head coach seems more than a little ridiculous.

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