The Battle Of Ohio, 2014 Edition

Tonight the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals on national television — if you can call the NFL Network national television.  It will be test of the team that will cause Browns fans to hold their breath for a number of reasons.

First, Browns fans are used to one immutable rule:  if the Browns are on national TV, they will suck.  Sure, the Browns have won some of those games, but the wins have been dismal, low-scoring, ugly affairs.  More often, the Browns get clobbered, embarrassed, and exposed and their hopeful fans get deflated.  It’s one thing for Browns fans to suffer through lame efforts like we’ve seen the last three weeks when the Browns are playing on an watched, regionally televised that gets the worst broadcast team on the network, it’s quite another thing to suffer the red-faced humiliation that comes from getting schooled on prime time.

Second, the Browns’ schedule has been the weakest in the NFL so far, which is why no one respects them.  In their last three games, the Browns have played a winless team, a winless team, and a team with one win — and they lost one of those games and barely eked out wins in the other two.  A win is a win is a win, but the Browns are the flimsiest 5-3 team in the NFL.  The Bengals, on the other hand, are a team that made the playoffs last year and has a lot of talent and experience.  The Browns have beaten New Orleans and Pittsburgh at home this year, but the Bengals will be the toughest test yet.

Third, the Browns are on the road, and playing in a venue where the Bengals have won 14 straight regular season games.  The last time the Browns had a road game, they played an appallingly bad game and lost to previously winless Jacksonville.  How are they going to perform in “The Jungle,” where Cincinnati seems to play like Super Bowl champs?

Still, it’s the Battle Of Ohio, and this is a series where upsets have often happened before.  If the Browns want to make a statement that they are for real, this is a good place to do it.

Trying To Find The Game

One other thing about today’s Ohio State-Navy game that is nettlesome:  it’s symptomatic of another unfortunate, entirely money-driven aspect of big-time sports, because it’s being shown only on a cable channel that many systems don’t carry.

When I first looked up the venue for the game, I saw that it was on the CBS Sports Network — which I equate with CBS and channel 10 on my cable network.  Wrong!  The CBS Sports Network is a separate channel.  If you live in the Columbus area and have Time-Warner cable, the CBS Sports Network is part of the sports station package and can be found at channel 531.  If you don’t have that package, you’re out of luck and can watch U.S. Open Tennis on the CBS network instead. 

Fortunately, I’ve got the package and will be able to watch the game.  But the movement of games to remote television venues is here to stay and probably will get worse.  It’s a way for networks to multiply their revenue streams, it’s a way for channels to put pressure on cable providers, and it’s a way for cable providers to get more money from subscribers who desperately want to watch their favorite teams play.  If having Ohio State on the CBS Sports Network, or having the Cleveland Browns on the NFL Network, once a year causes fans to subscribe to broader channel packages beyond the “basic cable” offerings, that’s great news for everyone in the chain but the poor fan. 

But when it comes to sports these days, it’s all about the money.

NFL Overhype Overload

Could the National Football League be any more overhyped than it now is?  It’s got it’s own year-round network.  It’s fodder for talk radio chatter every day, regardless of season.  Even the NFL combine, when prospects just run drills for a collective group of scouts, gets breathless coverage and instant analysis.

But the annual NFL draft always seems to reach new heights of overhype.  After all, it’s just the mechanism by which NFL teams select new players.  It doesn’t involve anyone playing a game, throwing a pass, or making a hit. Once it was done in a day, in a private room in New York City, without any TV coverage. Now it’s a glittering event, stretched out over three days, conducted live on America’s principal sports network in front of reporters and fans, with newly drafted players trotted out in front of the cameras and prominent players waiting to hear their fate made the subject of endless speculation.  Sports commentators talk about the draft and what teams might do for weeks beforehand, experts perform pointless “mock drafts” and those fake drafts get discussed ad nauseum, and the experts and commentators then criticize the selections the teams do make — all before any player even plays a down.  It’s absurd.

If you’re the NBA or the NHL, you’ve got to be shaking your heads.  You’re in the midst of your playoffs — the most important event in your season — and you’re knocked to the back pages and end of broadcast video clips by the NFL’s mere draft.  What could be a better illustration of the NFL’s popularity dominance?

I’ve long since grown sick of hearing about the NFL draft and wouldn’t watch it, and I’ve started to hear other sports fans say the same thing.  Could it possibly be that the NFL hype machine has gone too far, and people are starting to react to the overload?