The moral depravity of TV timeouts

8 Feb

I have a whole series of posts about basketball coming up. This is a small one, but get ready for more.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about the various ways in which the NCAA is terrible. Capricious and inconsistent rules enforcement and the continuing exploitation of football/basketball players are the most common areas of complaint. The big issue is that colleges rake in gargantuan sums of money, and it’s in their interest and the NCAA’s interest not to expose the unsavory characters who could damage everyone’s reputation or stop pretending that their whole enterprise is about amateurism or whatever. The main goal in both of these cases is to keep the money spigot turned on.

Colleges can’t help making money from sports. TV networks and fans line up to throw money at them. In a lot of ways, colleges have almost accidentally stumbled into operating athletic departments that are increasingly separate from the universities themselves and make a lot of people in academia uncomfortable. I’m not going to get into all of that right now, but I can see a lot of good reasons for maintaining the current status quo. Except in a few areas. TV timeouts in basketball is one. They need to go right now if the NCAA wants fans to take their “amateurs playing just for fun!” nonsense seriously.

College basketball games have eight designated TV timeouts. After the first dead ball with the clock under 16:00, 12:00, 8:00, and 4:00 in each half. TV timeouts are so pervasive that even games that aren’t broadcast on the TV or radio or anywhere else are played with them. It’s part of the game at this point. It’s reprehensible. TV timeouts make the game experience noticeably worse for fans in the stands, fans watching at home, the players, pretty much everyone except the coaches.* They exist for the sole purpose of earning money for colleges. Once upon a time you could make an argument that without the TV timeouts, games wouldn’t be on TV at all and so they were a necessary evil. That’s no longer the case. ESPN and CBS College Sports Network and NBC Sports and The Big Ten Network and the PAC-12 Network and all the various Fox Sports Net stations would still love to broadcast college basketball games without TV timeouts. They just wouldn’t pay as much for the privilege.

*Coaches love TV timeouts. They love timeouts generally. I think if it were up to coaches, there would be a mandatory timeout after every possession. That’s a topic for another time.

So what we’re left with is colleges and their governing organization claiming that their non-profit, tax-exempt basketball enterprise exists for the betterment of their unpaid students and in no way compromises their academic mission. They also significantly altered their basketball rules in a way that makes their product noticeably less enjoyable for their fans in a transparent and shameless effort to make more money. They do this with a straight face.

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