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ACC Championship Game Restricts Marching Bands; TV Is Killing The College Football Gameday Experience

Everything that isn’t profitable will be discarded by TV executives.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami
You won’t see them before the game
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC Championship Game teams are already set at this point, with the Miami Hurricanes and the Clemson Tigers clinching their divisions to earn a berth. It has been announced that the marching bands will be heavily restricted, with Clemson getting six minutes to perform a pregame show and Miami getting six minutes to perform a halftime show.

The halftime restriction was made necessary by the NCAA’s unilateral decision to cut halftime down so that the 20 minute halftime clock starts as soon as the second quarter ends. Since Dr. Pepper and ESPN require a seven minute block to show college kids throwing footballs through a target for scholarship money and other TV and sponsorship commitments were made, only six minutes were left for the marching bands. Thus, the ACC decided only Miami would perform at halftime, while Clemson would perform a six minute pregame show so that a made-for-TV segment honoring players from all fourteen ACC schools could be shown in the broadcast window.

This is a dangerous precedent for anyone who loves the things that make college football unique and special. The TV executives have decreed that marching bands do not represent something that can generate sufficient ad revenue to warrant any respect, and since ad revenue is what shapes the changes to your college football game day experience now, I personally can’t help but see a slippery slope.

I’ll grant that the conference title games are a slightly different animal. This will be one of several conference title games that day, each of which is a massive revenue generator. The conference championship game was first introduced by the SEC in 1992 after they added South Carolina and Arkansas to create a 12-team conference that could then be split into two divisions whose winners would be permitted by the NCAA to stage a title game. Starting in 2018 with the inaugural Sun Belt championship game, every FBS conference will have one.

The conference championship game is very useful as a revenue generator, as it’s an extra game between two of the best teams in any given conference. It also does well for a front-runner’s resume to have another quality win. The pursuit of the conference championship game is, however, one of the many factors involved in the conference realignment quagmire of the past 10 years that’s led to things like 14-team conferences, series like Nebraska-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas ending, West Virginia having no conference rivals within 1,000 miles and Wisconsin having a weak schedule despite playing in the same league as Ohio State and Penn State. This article on the pursuit of college football divisions at the expense of the regional clashes that make non-championship college football fun goes into more detail, but I digress.

Although the championship games are principally for TV, every college football game is subordinate to TV now. The halftime clock measure was an effort to reduce the running times of the games without sacrificing any ad spots or TV timeouts. When you watch from your couch and a TV timeout occurs, you can get up, go to the bathroom and grab another beer. Ashes to ashes, beer to pee, etc. When you’re at the game, a commercial break after an extra point followed by a commercial break after the kickoff is excruciating.

The primary rewards for attending a game are the atmosphere and getting to see the game in person, but part of that atmosphere is the marching band pregame and halftime shows, which are something unique to college football that’s worth preserving. Unfortunately, the marching band is not a great TV sponsorship revenue generator, so it’s propped up only by the passion of its members and fans and however much support the athletic department gives it.