So what does this all mean? One thing that has become clear only recently to network insiders is that early in the season at least, football, like basketball, is essentially a regional-interest sport. Why should Harry Homeviewer care about Pitt and Oklahoma on national TV in September when he can watch his own team on local TV? And for that matter, why should he tune in his own team now if he can catch it many times later on?
The glut is pernicious, not propitious. Unless the CFA and Big Ten and Pac-10 kiss and make up and legally curtail the number of games on TV—a dubious prospect, considering the Supreme Court ruling and the bitterness between them—the colleges will be left with a depressed marketplace. There will be no money to prop up non-revenue sports such as swimming and wrestling. The big network paydays will be over, assuming the networks remain in college football at all. As Nebraska athletic director Bob Devaney says, "I don't see any great resurgence in the next year or so. I'm not predicting colleges will go broke—but it isn't going to be the bonanza it was."
Sweet irony. Remember how the major colleges, once liberated, were going to dip into that bottomless pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow? Well, 3.5% fewer households are watching college football on national TV this year, even though there have been 55% more games available on the five national outlets. It's enough to remind one of a remark by ABC's Beano Cook: "The colleges are like an aging woman at a singles bar. They overrated themselves. They used to be in demand, but not now."