Sports business notes: Cincinnati in CFP shouldn’t impact TV ratings
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Sports business notes: Cincinnati in CFP shouldn’t impact TV ratings

Eric Prisbell24 days
Article written by:Eric PrisbellEric Prisbell


Luke Fickell and Cincinnati are trying to become the first Group of 5 program to make the College Football Playoff. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The truth about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that the nation wants to watch the little guy play during the event’s first weekend, but by the Final Four the audience wants to see the sport’s biggest brands on the game’s largest stage. Would the same viewing preferences apply to Cincinnati and the College Football Playoff? 

In the first seven years of the event, there hasn’t been a true Cinderella team in the four-team bracket. It’s mostly been a showcase of the sport’s marquee brands, with the one-off exceptions of Washington and Michigan State (still, both are Power 5 programs). There has never been a participant from a Group of 5 conference, a barrier-breaking feat that unbeaten Cincinnati is trying to accomplish this season.

What would Cincinnati’s presence mean for viewership? The notion that having Cincinnati in the CFP would lead to ratings falling off a cliff, even if the Bearcats face a well-known heavyweight such as Alabama, Georgia or Ohio State, may not necessarily be the case. When asked this week what Cincinnati’s inclusion would mean for viewership, a noted TV industry source told On3, “If it’s a good game, it won’t have any impact. In fact, a good, close game may actually help. So many of the semis haven’t been close.”

Regardless of the teams involved, the event itself has inherent value and draws a significant national audience. Sources have said the CFP playoffs are the most coveted annual live sports property other than the Super Bowl. And what’s more important than the school name on the front of the jersey is the tally on the scoreboard. Especially with this season’s semifinals on New Year’s Eve, if the games aren’t close, there are plenty of entertainment alternatives for fans. 

Since the CFP began after the 2014 season, the vast majority of the semifinal games have not been close. In fact, only three of the 14 semifinal matchups to date have been decided by single digits. 

Viewership for the semifinal games has ranged from a low of 16.8 million for Clemson’s 30-3 victory over Notre Dame on December 29, 2018, to a high of 28.3 million for Ohio State’s 42-35 win over Alabama in the first installment of the CFP. Most of the semifinals attracted between 18 and 20 million viewers, with a few outliers, data from Sports Media Watch shows.

Not surprisingly, the two most-watched Cincinnati games this season were Power 5 matchups against Notre Dame (3.8 million watched on NBC) and Indiana (1.7 million on ESPN). The Bearcats, currently fifth in the CFP rankings, could see a relatively strong viewing audience for their November 20 game against SMU and the December 4 AAC title game, assuming they enter the game unbeaten.

The Bearcats are the darlings threatening to crack through a system so heavily tilted toward Power 5 teams. It’s happened plenty in the basketball world, where mid-major programs can overcome poor NCAA tournament seeding to make deep runs. Connoisseurs will remember 2006, when George Mason captivated the college basketball world by crashing the Final Four, only to author a dud in an utterly non-competitive game against eventual national champion Florida in a semifinal.

If Cincinnati cracks through, viewership won’t necessarily plummet. As long as the semifinal remains competitive, America will watch.

Here’s a look at all the CFP semifinals.

Alabama-Notre Dame18.9Alabama, 31-14
Clemson-Ohio State19.2Ohio State, 49-28
Clemson-Ohio State21.2Clemson, 29-23
LSU-Oklahoma17.2LSU, 63-28
Clemson-Notre Dame16.8Clemson, 30-3
Alabama-Oklahoma19.1Alabama, 45-34
Georgia-Oklahoma26.9Georgia, 54-48 (2OT)
Alabama-Clemson21.5Alabama, 24-6
Alabama-Washington19.3Alabama, 24-7
Clemson-Ohio State19.2Clemson, 31-0
Alabama-Michigan State18.6Alabama, 38-0
Clemson-Oklahoma15.6Clemson, 37-17
Florida State-Oregon28.1Oregon, 59-20
Alabama-Ohio State28.3Ohio State, 42-35

Bad decision by Colonial

Shame on the Colonial Athletic Association for reaffirming its decision to ban James Madison from conference championships in the wake of the school’s decision to leave for the Sun Belt Conference.

Over the past several months, during an active conference realignment cycle, we’ve seen plenty of moves by the sport’s stakeholders that aren’t in the best interest of the athletes. But this is a new low, especially after the pandemic disrupted so much of the athlete experience last year. 

The CAA’s Board of Directors even had the gall to say in a statement that “caring for the health and wellness of student-athletes is of paramount importance.” Well, only if those athletes play for schools that profess loyalty to the CAA. 

The comments made in a statement by JMU president Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne were particularly on point. They note that the CAA is believed to be the nation’s only conference with this rule related to championships. They point out that VCU was permitted to compete in the CAA baseball championship eight days after it announced its departure for the Atlantic 10 in 2012. And they rightly emphasize that the by-law was not created in this new college sports climate, where athlete health and welfare concerns are prioritized. 

“We sit amidst an NCAA governance restructuring process, which is taking place because there are things broken in college athletics that we need to fix,” the statement said. “Every decision moving forward should continue to be about our student-athletes. As has been made abundantly clear this evening, the best interest of JMU student-athletes moving forward is to compete in the Sun Belt.”

If you’re a recruit contemplating playing in the CAA, it would be wise to have eyes wide open.

Quick hits

+ New Jersey this week joined California and New York as states with the most progressive regulations permitting high school athletes to monetize their NIL. High school athletes in the Garden State will be allowed to profit off their NIL starting in January. Other states would be wise to follow the lead of these three states, or risk seeing their best prospects seek to play high school sports where they can secure endorsement deals.

+ The most coveted college basketball tickets this season will be for games played at Cameron Indoor Stadium — and, of course, coached by Mike Krzyzewski in his final season. Of the top 10 most expensive tickets for college basketball games this season, all are for Duke home games, Action Network reports.