Watch not ESPN

Football connects across generations.

When they were young, my daughters and I used to enjoy gathering together precisely at 8 pm on Monday nights in time to belt out “Are you ready for some football?” together with Hank Williams, Jr. Then, as we watched together on the couch, I would try to point out the basic aspects of the game and, over the years, they developed an intelligent sense of what was going on.

We have also enjoyed the mega-spectacle of Sooners home games in Norman, filled with energy and excitement. Just as memorably, Dad used to take me to Bulldog games growing up. Each of my daughters have also enjoyed Bulldog games with him in the same small college stadium. Hannah performed the national anthem in sign language before homecoming one year. Mmmm, nothing is quite as nice as hot chocolate and hot dogs to cut the chill, as the band plays and the Bulldogs move the football down the field.

Remarkably, so far as I can remember, my father and I have never missed watching football games together on New Years Day. Last year’s Sugar Bowl was so compelling that we had standing room only in Mother and Dad’s living room as the family gathered together. Even those of us who had seats were seldom using them, but rather yelling and shouting as the Sooners pulled out an upset for the ages over the super heavily favored Alabama squad. Indeed, I later watched the game over again, downloaded in HD from iTunes, at least 2 additional times during the past year.

But we are not watching football tonight. Despite our love of football, we are not day-in day-out sports fans, and therefore we are shut out of watching the first ever College Football Playoff Championship game this year. It is broadcast only on cable, while we receive our TV with a digital antenna in the attic that pulls down local stations and PBS in HD onto our iMac using eyeTV.

To invest in the hundreds of cable channels would not make financial sense for us, as we watch TV mainly for local weather and special live broadcast events. We select movies and television shows via Netflix (generally), iTunes (when HD offers added value), and youTube (it’s easy to spend an entire evening enjoying the Piano Guys or Studio C).

Tonight is the end of an era, the era of casual family football. The cable-only broadcast of tonight’s game is harmful for the future of the sport. From now on, families who are not sports junkies will no longer enjoy together in their own homes the end-of-season football games.

How long can football afford to sell its soul to cable providers? Cable providers will not unbundle channels like ESPN, and ESPN will not unbundle high-draw events such as tonight’s game. We would gladly purchase it through ESPN online or on our iPads, but it is unavailable from the ESPN website, even as pay-per-view. Nor does the Watch ESPN app provide an answer for us; through it, the game is available only to those who already subscribe to a cable provider. If we were sports junkies, we could subscribe to cable and receive all of the ESPN and other sports channels to our hearts content. But we only want to watch occasional or special games, as a family, not to have sports dominate our lives, nor to clutter our evenings with cable channels that we will never use.

With the playoff comes a schedule extended well into the new year. If the championship game were still broadcast over the holidays, we would gather at my parents’ home, for they have cable. But this is January 12, and they are more than 500 miles away.

But never mind. The girls are up to something in the other room. They won’t miss the game. They won’t remember the first college football playoff year. They will not find college football filled with vivid memories of the underdog Ducks and Buckeyes, who were never supposed to make it this far. For my family, tonight’s cable-only broadcast means good-bye, college football excitement. I think they’ve found a puzzle to work on; wonder if it might be a picture of a Wyoming landscape we might visit later this year…

Watch Not ESPN

Football once connected families across generations. Due to cable bundling of the most important college game of the year, now it does so no longer.

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