The Case For Friday Night HoopsPosted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010
We’ve had this idea banging around in the cobwebs of the dome for some time now, but it really hit home for us last week. On an evening where most of the nation was still snowed in and wanting something good to watch on television besides the Olympic Opening Ceremony FAIL (seriously, how long can you enjoy the procession of competing nations before losing interest around Finland?), we were treated to what might have been the absolute best college basketball game of the entire season: A triple-overtime thriller between Pitt and West Virginia in the return game of their bitter Backyard Brawl rivalry. It was 55 minutes of pulsating basketball with more swings than a John Mark Karr fantasy camp. And yet, all we could keep thinking was… why don’t we get this pleasure every Friday night?
Tonight, as part of Bracketbusters, we’ll get another interesting game between #24 Northern Iowa and Old Dominion on ESPN2, but in general Friday night college basketball after conference play begins is a vast wasteland relegated to the Ivy League, Big Sky, MAAC and a few others, with hardly any televised presence to speak of. When you consider that on an average Saturday during league play, there are over 140 games with more than two dozen televised in some national platform, wouldn’t it make a teeny bit of sense to put a couple of those marquee matchups on one of the ESPNs each Friday night? So with a tip of the hat to ESPN programming director Dave Brown, here’s our case for Friday Night Hoops.
- Nature Abhors a Vacuum. ESPN has Big Monday, Super Tuesday, Wednesday Night Hoops and Throwdown Thursday to go along with Saturday Prime Time as their featured college basketball games each week. FSN already has Sunday night covered, so what’s missing for the discriminating college basketball aficianado? Friday nights. It could be either one really good game or two, but we’re not sure why ESPN isn’t exploiting this programmatic vacuum.
- The Bar Crowd. Friday night is bar night for much of America, and guys love to have a game on in the background as they’re swilling $2 PBRs. After all, at the 7-11 pm hours in the East, most fellas haven’t yet reached the point of inebriation to where they actually believe it’s a good idea to talk to those gals over in the corner. Before the inevitable rejection and/or embarrassment occurs in that regard, there will be another option beyond the standard NBA fare to capture his interest. And for those of us who are already home on Friday night twiddling our winks, the network will have automatic viewership.
- The NBA Effect? One possible explanation could be that the NBA is ESPN’s featured property on Friday nights, and we certainly understand that. But surely they understand that NBA and NCAA fans are often different animals, and many people who couldn’t be held down with their eyelids taped up to watch a Cavaliers-Magic game would be more than happy to give WVU-Pitt a shot. It’s not like they don’t have multiple channel options other than the one without a number or letter after the “ESPN.”
- Oversaturation on Saturday. Looking at tomorrow’s schedule of televised games, there are sixteen games on the ESPN family of networks and another dozen offered on 360 (not to mention CBS, FSN, the Mtn, BTN, etc.). That’s almost thirty games on ESPN alone that we could sit down and watch were we so inclined to do so, with the 12 pm-2 pm slot in particular chock full of action. The point is that there’s too much coverage overlapping more coverage and encapsulated by even more coverage. And it’s like that every single Saturday during conference play. What’s the danger in taking a couple of your better matchups and throwing them into a double-header on Friday night so that there’s a more undivided audience for those games?
- Come Up With a Gimmick. ESPN is the company of gimmicks, teasers and product tie-ins, so this shouldn’t be that difficult for them. They could market it as a conference showdown like they already do with Big Monday and the rest, so that the “weekend” game for those schools would actually take place on Friday night instead. Something like the WVU-Pitt game last week, followed by Syracuse-Georgetown this week, and the Cincy-WVU tilt next week. Or if that’s no good, give a slot to the little guys and make it Mid-Major Friday, with a pool of leagues involved (A10, CUSA, WAC, MWC, WCC, MVC, CAA) so that ESPN can pick the most compelling matchups each week. We’re pretty sure those leagues would bend over backwards to get that kind of regular coverage. Another idea is to set up a regional interconference rivalry game each week in that slot — we’d be a lot more interested in a game between Arizona/New Mexico or Notre Dame/Butler now than we were in December. And forget about the tired argument about how coaches don’t like putting nonconference games in the middle of conference schedules — Duke, for example, plays Tulsa next Thursday, and it’s a good opportunity for teams to use one open date to expose themselves to another style of play to prep for the postseason. The key point here is that there are a lot of ways to spin this to make it interesting, and we’re sure that any one of them would be better than our options now, which are virtually none.
So there you have it. Five good reasons for ESPN (or hey, any other network, really) to start putting a featured game on Friday nights during January and February. They have a year to figure it out, so when some snot-nosed junior executive uses our post as the key talking points for his “brilliant idea” in a programming meeting next summer, we’d appreciate at minimum a free Colin Cowherd t-shirt (a press credential to those games will also work).