Offense Wins At The Box Office, While Defense Wins The Oscars

The BCS Championship game we got was not the one the fans and sports media wanted. And they’re all wrong.

What they wanted was a shootout between someone like Oregon, in their chrome-plated Optimus Prime helmets and 5-foot-10 height limit, and Oklahoma State, whose football program is geared specifically toward stroking Mike Gundy’s fragile ego. They wanted a 77 – 63 final score with lots of shoulder and arm tackling.

What they got was a chess match, with one team refusing to let the other advance the ball, methodically grinding down their opponent physically and breaking their will mentally. Fans wanted Transformers II; they got The English Patient. 

While popcorn movies, like West Coast football, are flashy and fun to watch, it’s prestige films and SEC football that win awards. And here’s why:

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Special effects vs. a good script.  Does your movie have gaping plot holes or flaws in internal logic? Just add lots of explosions and CGI robots. Throw in slow, fawning shots of Megan Fox to distract the viewers from the fact that the story isn’t really a story at all; it’s just a few brief bits of dialogue between set pieces. Fans of movies like this didn’t come to have their belief systems challenged or to ponder the struggle of man’s nature; they came to get away from their troubles and be dazzled by spectacle for a couple hours. Forget a compelling story; look at the pretty colors!

In that vein, teams in the PAC-12 and B1G know they can’t land big, run-stopping recruits. And in many of the major markets, teams have far too many other distractions competing for fan dollars. So they must put on a fireworks show, complete with small, fleet receivers slashing up and down the field, scoring at will against equally small defenders. It isn’t good fundamental football, but boy is it exciting. And plus, look at all the crazy uniforms!

Box office receipts vs. Academy Awards.  Some films are works of art. They tell stories that speak to the universal human experience, or challenge mainstream morality. Some just want to provoke a reaction, good or bad. These films are judged by their peers and win awards for their excellence in execution. But they don’t turn huge profits for the studios and aren’t widely released in some cases. You can’t even find them in smaller markets like Tuscaloosa.

On the other hand, nobody at the studio was trying to win awards with the latest Twilight film. The producers of this series know they have a built-in audience and can print money just by releasing another film cut from the same cloth. Artistic credibility among peers isn’t the point; for producers of the latest blockbuster, raking in boatloads of cash is the object of the game.

What’s the object of the game in college football? Who judges the ultimate goal? That changed over the past few years, as ESPN gradually took over the marketing of college sports as mainstream entertainment. At one time in the distant past, seeing a champion of college football that represented the highest goals of the sport was the object. Now the goal is to pull a big rating and generate ad revenue. So with all the talk of changes to the BCS formula we have to ask ourselves: is the goal to crown a true champion, or just get one that will increase sales?

Chick flicks vs. Guy movies.  Know why ladies don’t pay a cover charge at the bar? Because girls attract guys, and guys spend money. If you get more girls coming to movies, you usually have guys taking them, and offering to buy that eight dollar barrel of Coke and the four dollar box of M&Ms, too. Sure, the movie is a group of girls singing into wooden spoons in their pajamas while Ashton Kutcher and Gerard Butler fight over them. That’s what producers think women want, and the box office numbers are the proof.

Guy movies don’t draw big numbers. Sure, we want to watch Stallone gun down Al Qaeda with one hand while popping arthritis meds with the other. We just want to do so in the comfort of our own home, devouring pizza in our boxers. So we wait around and rent it on Netflix or PPV. We’re a niche audience, but a devout one.

As football becomes more of a pageant and less an actual athletic contest, you’ll see a larger fan base and larger ratings and revenues. But eventually, something else will come along that’s shiner and more exciting, and football will be left where it began; with a smaller audience of true fans.

Anyone remember the insane numbers the WWF did in the 1980s? Hulk Hogan was everywhere, and movie stars were going to pro wrestling matches just to be seen attending the latest fad entertainment. But people moved on, like they always do. Whether it’s the UFC, or video games or something else, the larger public’s tastes change. You’ll always have a hardcore base that will watch in good times and bad, but that’s not where the money is.

So until ESPN and Hollywood completely kill off defensive-minded football, enjoy seeing the chess match between coaches and the hard-fought, low-scoring games. Soon enough, we’ll have a playoff, and fans will get to watch Arena football with a larger playing surface, and skip the Academy Awards.

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