Amid the current college athletic conference chaos, there was a timely example this weekend of the need to take a breath and reconsider how television dollars dominate college athletics decisions.
The Oklahoma State University and Tulsa University football teams were scheduled to kick off their game in Tulsa about 9 p.m. Saturday. There is no reason the schools would have chosen such a late start unless they were being influenced by the opportunity to have the game televised. An earlier start would be better for the schools, their fans and, most importantly, the players. However, the overriding factor is what is best for the television network that was willing to broadcast the game.
Even if the game had started on time, it probably wouldn’t have concluded until after midnight. As it was, Mother Nature stepped in with a thunderstorm and lightning that delayed the start of the game and delayed it again. Teams waited, fans waited, the storm finally passed, and officials decided it was safe to start the game — shortly after midnight. The game was not completed until about 3:30 a.m. Sunday — but, by gosh, it was on TV for anyone who wanted to stay up and watch it at that hour.
It’s true that such a storm could have interrupted play earlier in the day, but at least the schools would have had more options to get the game started at a reasonable hour. If the TV crew hadn’t been on hand, would the schools have considered simply delaying the game until later the next day rather than starting in the middle of the night?
The situation in Tulsa on Saturday was a dramatic example of how the money from television contracts has become the tail that wags the college athletics dog. Where will it end?