OpEd Columns

TV Timeouts Are The Curse Of Notre Dame Football (Indianapolis Star 10/4/03)

As a true Notre Dame fan in this autumn of discontent, I can only blame one source for the current football failures of the Fighting Irish. It's NBC's fault.
Like 30 years of weekly tanning bed visits, too much TV exposure has caught up with America's most televised college football team. It's time to face up, Irish faithful. Notre Dame home games on NBC are in need of an extreme makeover.
Compare the 1973 ABC broadcast of USC-Notre Dame to this season's NBC broadcast of Notre Dame-Washington State three decades later, and you'll see that it's now impossible to expect the Notre Dame players and fans to have the energy of glory days gone by.
Frankly, they're bored. The result of too much momentum interruptus.
With the ebb and flow of the game destroyed by crass commercialism, the coaches, players, and fans are now glassy-eyed slaves to the predictable onslaught of TV timeouts.
TV timeouts, the curse of college football. A pseudo-ref steps onto the field and sticks up his foamy orange right arm like a runway cop at the airport. The game stops.
While the players hurry up and wait during the two-and-a-half minute interlude, we football fans have been trained like house cats on how to deal with TV timeouts. We know exactly where and when to go. In fact, in the stadium, it's a game unto itself.
Beat your neighbor to the john.
I pop off my Seat 18, Row 39 in the south end zone, climb over three elderly chaps to my right, skip down 27 steps, shuffle down the ramp past four ushers, hustle into the men's room, urinate, wash my hands, then hot foot it back to my seat before the next snap.
I'm not the only one well schooled in this practice. When Notre Dame expanded its stadium in 1997, the synchronized flushing of toilets during a TV timeout flooded the stadium and two nearby campus buildings. A plumber's Pavlovian nightmare.
It's a potty ritual repeated often on Saturday afternoons that are much longer today than they used to be, thanks to almost an hour of insidious in-game commercials.
In 1973, when TV timeouts were 60 seconds long and far less frequent, Notre Dame's biggest game of the year took two hours and 40 minutes to complete. This year, four quarters occupied a whopping three hours and 51 minutes.
That's 71 minutes longer, the length of a Disney animated feature film…which is what it took to appease my two toddlers while mommy and daddy (sandwiched between a couple of sweaty guys with space-sapping thighs) twiddled our thumbs through a mind-numbing twenty-one TV timeouts.
In doing my research, I didn't even count the additional length of the overtime in this year's game…an overtime that tacked on ten bucks to my already bloated babysitting bill. It now costs more to pay a 12-year old to watch my future Domers during a Notre Dame home game, than it does to buy the coveted ticket into the stadium.
I should send NBC an invoice.
But it's not just NBC's fault. The same script applies to CBS, ESPN, FOX, and even ABC, who over the decades has abandoned their brilliantly simplistic approach to televising the college game.
Once upon a time, ABC telecasts basked in the pageantry and tradition of the college game. Today, the networks have sucked the college out of college football
In 1973, the Notre Dame student body flooded the field, not just at the end of the game, but unthinkably during halftime. They joyfully rode on each other's shoulders forming a massive tunnel for their team to run through before the start of the second half. ABC captured it all, along with the marching band's entire seven minute halftime performance.
In 2003, the band gets 30 seconds of airtime at the half, squeezed between a parade of commercials. Of course, this corporate bombardment is not unique to Notre Dame games. It rules college football in general.
Even the students, once streaking bundles of anarchic joy, are now shameless network promoters. John 3:16 has been replaced by "Sportscenter Is Next" on the chests of America's inebriated underclassmen. Don't expect Johnny Sigma Epsilon to run onto the field naked at a Notre Dame game without an ad painted on his rear.
And if he did, no one at home would see him do cartwheels at midfield, or see the five state troopers drag his face through the end zone. Instead, they'll be watching two minutes of promos for next week's Must See TV.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell