At the risk of writing a populist rant that is patently obvious to even the most casual college basketball fans, something needs to be said.
TV timeouts are ruining college basketball.
During a 40 minute game, there are 8 mandatory television timeouts coming at the first stoppage under the 16, 12, 8, and 4 minute mark of each half. Why are there so many TV timeouts in college basketball? Advertisers pay networks. Networks pay the NCAA and its conferences. More timeouts means more commercials means more money for everybody involved. Well, at least everyone but the players.
What, you thought TV timeouts were for the benefit of the student-athlete? Please.
Angst over television timeouts is nothing new. Why, NCAA coaches were expressing frustrations over the breaks in play as far back as the 1960s. And especially during the NCAA Tournament when the commercial breaks are longer and the ad dollars more lucrative, complaints over the number of timeouts rise annually.
To see the impact of television timeouts on a college basketball broadcast, I studied the UCLA-Washington game from last Thursday night that was still on my DVR so I can enjoy the sounds of Bill Walton throughout the offseason.
In a span of 1:37 in the first half, there were three separate commercial breaks thanks to a UCLA timeout, a Washington timeout, and a mandatory television timeout.
At one point in the second half after the first mandatory TV timeout, Washington took a timeout when failing to get the ball in bounds. Back to back commercial breaks happened with the ball not even being in play! That's even worse than the dreaded touchdown-commercial-touchback-commercial sequence that dooms NFL games. At least in those instances you're actually seeing one football-related play.
All totaled, there were 14 timeouts taken during a 40 minute game.
The total commercial time was 19:09 during the first and second half. Almost an entire half's worth of commercials alone. This does not include the 15 minute halftime and time spent on feature stories going in and out of commercial by ESPN and other stoppages in play. If you add in all of those minutes and seconds, you're watching far more non-basketball related things than basketball itself in a typical telecast.
And if you think TV timeouts are bad enough watching on television, it's exponentially worse in person. The massive number of timeouts make the game unbearable at the arena. Every time the game begins to develop a rhythm, it's brought to a screeching halt by a TV or coach's timeout. It's brutal. By the fourth TV timeout, you've run out of conversation with your pal and left to hopelessly try to tap into the arena's severely overloaded WiFi to check Twitter or e-mail or Words With Friends. It's perhaps the worst in-stadium experience in sports if you're not a drunk college student. There's only so many times you can be entertained by the dance team and cheerleaders passing out pizza boxes to people sitting courtside.
Do you know why more people are gravitating towards soccer? There are no timeouts and more importantly, no commercials during the action. Do you know what's great about playoff overtime hockey? No timeouts. No commercials. It's amazing how a lack of commercials and an increase in flow helps your product and makes it much more exciting.
What can the NCAA do to fix it? Believe it or not, the NCAA has actually changed the rule for the women's game. A coach's timeout called within 30 seconds of a media timeout becomes the media timeout and cancels out the dreaded back-to-back timeout.
Could we see the same rule installed in men's basketball? Of course, but that would mean the NCAA giving back advertising dollars. I wouldn't hold my breath.