Notre Dame Football on, Yawn, NBC...Try To Stay Awake

Wise GuidesCorrespondent INovember 20, 2009

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Student fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish wave towels before a kick-off against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 34-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Since Notre Dame signed the contract with NBC to broadcast every Irish home game to the entire nation in 1991—yes, it’s been that long—these games have become marathons, usually lasting well over three hours and sometimes approaching the four-hour mark.

There have been periodic references to this trend in the media, but I’ve never seen a great outcry from anywhere or even a close look at why this is the case (more and longer commercials, I’ve always assumed).

And really, who in the mainstream media is going to do such a critique, NBC? Or any of the other outlets, ABC, CBS, ESPN, who rely on the popularity of televised sports to make millions? They’re not going to explore the annoying trend to more commercials and longer games out of South Bend or anywhere else. 

Something about not biting the hand that feeds you. I did email the SID’s office to try to get the average time of Irish home games but haven’t heard back yet. I’ll provide an update if that changes.

Short of that I decided to take a closer look at a Notre Dame home game, the recent one against USC, and compare that to a game on rival ABC, Iowa at Ohio State, in the same afternoon time slot.

Well, the Irish may be struggling (again) on the gridiron, but they’re kicking butt when it comes to time of game. That contest against USC lasted three hours and 40 minutes, crushing the OSU-Iowa tilt, which went just over three hours (3:05).

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And while the ND game ended in regulation, Ohio State won after one overtime session (if "session" is the right word for the weird college football OT format). That Big Ten game went about 2:50 in regulation.

Way to go Irish! I’m not going to document every commercial break for you from that USC game but I’ll hit some lowlights.

  • We get our first commercial break less than two minutes in (13:04) after one USC possession.
  • Four commercials and the Irish are on offense, but quickly turn it back over to the hucksters (at the 10:56 mark).
  • Five more commercials and back to Notre Dame Stadium. So, just over four minutes into the game and there’s already been two breaks and about as many commercials as plays. Not a good start for fans who tuned in to, you know, watch football.
  • The next break comes with 8:47 left in the first quarter after a USC score...but you get the idea.

Halftime lasted a whopping 22 minutes and included college football highlights and an appearance by SNL’s Seth Myers at the Weekend Update desk. There was plenty of that self-promotion by NBC throughout, especially for the next night’s NFL game on the network.

The litany continued in the second half, the most maddening example coming with 10:29 to go in the fourth quarter after a Notre Dame player was injured. The player was down but then got up quickly and was shown walking to the sideline, but apparently not fast enough.

NBC went to a break and five commercials ensued...and I’m thinking "Too bad for the players and fans in attendance, but thank God for TIVO." 

At the Ohio State-Iowa game, the first break didn’t come until there was 8:12 left in the first quarter; at Notre Dame they’d had three commercial breaks by then. To be fair, halftime at the Buckeyes’ game lasted about 21 minutes, so there was little difference there, and there was slightly more scoring in the Notre Dame game, which adds time (they lost 34-27 while OSU won 27-24).

And some clock confusion at the end of the ND game—the refs put one second back on the clock that allowed for another final play—added about five minutes to the broadcast.

Still, there’s no excuse to justify these football epics if you’re a fan that just wants to watch the damn game. So to ND fans, my condolences.

I’m not trying to pick on Domers here, because certainly all the networks milk these college and pro games for all they’re worth (anybody else notice the incredibly annoying development in the NFL when they now go to commercial after the kickoff? So it’s touchdown-commercials-kickoff-commercials. I hope whoever came up with that burns in hell).

But one big reason I wanted to take a closer look at ND/NBC was because I’ve heard complaints from those very same fans. As I researched a book on Notre Dame Stadium (shameless plug) fans told me how difficult it is to stay pumped and focused for four hours—imagine what it’s like for the players, too—how if you tailgated hard you go from buzz to hangover headache by halftime, to tired and dying of thirst in the third quarter.

One Irish alum chuckled when I asked if she’d taken her kid to a game, saying there was no way her little one would sit on a bleacher seat for four hours.

The things people (or in this case religious institutions of higher learning) do for money. The Notre Dame administration says all those millions go to support worthy athletic and academic programs and initiatives on campus, including scholarships for needy kids, and let’s hope so.

I’m certain there are plenty of ND fans, yawning through yet another TV timeout, who might wonder if it’s all worth it. With mediocre ratings and another mediocre team on the field, administrators at Notre Dame and execs at NBC should be wondering the same thing.

Andy Buchanan, Wise Guides


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