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College Football Could Really Use a Crash Course in Public Relations

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College Football Could Really Use a Crash Course in Public Relations
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff

When the NCAA is done patching up its enforcement woes, a PR overhaul should be next on its checklist.

Public relations haven’t been a strong suit for the sport you know and love. This became obvious yet again as news from the BCS meetings in California began to trickle out.

Make no mistake about it: This has been a tremendous week for the sport. The progress that has been made regarding college football’s future four-team playoff, College Football Playoff, is real. The details are newsworthy. The excitement for those of us who have clamored for the collapse of the BCS is building.

But there should be more excitement. There should be more coverage. There should be more attention being paid to what will be a dramatic shift in the collegiate landscape. Heck, we've heard more about Legends and Leaders, the soon-to-be-gone divisions of the Big Ten, than we have the impending playoff.

The buzz about these changes—which will go live after the 2013 season—has been small. Well, at least to those who aren’t connected to their football-centric Twitter feeds for more hours out of the day than they’d like to admit.

Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports
Big Ten commsioner Jim Delany knows a bit about bad PR
There are a handful of reasons for this, of course, outside of college football seemingly unable to capitalize on good PR. In this specific instance, the timing couldn’t be much worse.

While college football’s head honchos aren’t concerned with how their closed-door meetings this week stand up to the NFL draft, they should be.

Many members of the college football media flock to these meetings as well, dissecting each press conference and critical tidbit. This is more than just a simple meeting of the minds—especially when you consider the importance of the matters being hashed out—it’s a public showcase of sorts. Or at least it has become one.

Important decisions are being made, many of which are being unveiled (or finalized) to the public. As much as this week is about brainstorming, it’s also become a giant reveal.

And in a week where the majority of the coverage is already spoken for, you won’t get the coverage you deserve, no matter how important the news might be.

The NFL draft has become a national holiday, a celebration that consumes most national headlines over the course of the week. If you’re planning major college football press conferences—where you’re also announcing significant, positive changes—you probably should have picked another week.

Any other week, really.

Instead, college football misses out on an opportunity to cash in further on positive news.

Is this a critical mistake? Absolutely not. We’re still a lengthy ways out before this four-team playoff becomes a reality. Still, it identifies a continued disconnect between the game and its customers (us). Better yet, it misses out on the possibility of attracting interest beyond the walls of college football.

Does College Football Have a Public Relations Problem?

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In general, the past few years have been PR hell for both the NCAA and college football. Make no mistake about it, these are very different entities. Yet, in the eyes of many, they are bundled together when something (typically bad) breaks.

Rarely does the good, important news get the forum it deserves. Some of this falls on us and our fascination with controversy, but college football is at fault a great deal as well.

This theme has been on display this week.

Instead of hearing about how New Year’s Eve and Day will become the college football marathon we’ve been craving for—with two monstrous semifinal games and four BCS-like games to be played in this two-day span—we instead were bombarded with jokes about the simplicity of the playoff name.

Instead of basking in the glory of having Cowboys Stadium, the ultimate football palace, serve as the inaugural host site for the championship game, the topic instead turned to the bizarre College Football Playoff logos up for fan voting.

Better yet, less than 24 hours in, the voting poll was hacked, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy. I hate to say it, but nothing sums up college football in 2013 quite like a hacked voting poll to choose a new logo for a playoff still more than a year away.

Are you surprised? Unfortunately, I’m not.

The negatives seen and heard from the BCS meetings pale in comparison to the actual change being made. 

College football is headed in the right direction, even if the perception of these changes isn’t where it needs to be.

I’m thrilled to hear about the tidbits that trickled out of California, and the details (while still somewhat limited) are beginning to shape what should be a significant next step.

The problem, however, is that I wish the message was clear. I wish the delivery was crisp. I wish there was more excitement. I wish people were talking about the good versus the insignificant minutia.

It’s a problem that parallels a theme in recent years, and perhaps we are mostly to blame.

At a time when college football has never been more popular, however, I can only wonder about the possibilities. If only a game so great could promote itself in the fashion it deserves.

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