First off, I would like to thank ESPN2 for changing the direction of this article. I had originally planned on grilling them for missing an opportunity at broadcasting a showcase game in Wyoming-New Mexico State until this news came out.
Of course, like any complaining sportswriter, this is not enough for me. There is so much potential for Week Zero to jump-start both CBS and ESPN’s coverage of college football for the season, yet the networks seem to be reluctant to take advantage of this Group of Five dominated slate.
From the late 90s to the early 2000s, the week now known as Week Zero was a high-profile affair filled with marquee games, most at neutral sites like the Kickoff and Pigskin Classics. While nowadays rules limit participants to Hawaii and teams playing at Hawaii or Australia, ESPN and CBS should still take advantage of what they have to work with.
One way both networks can go all in for Week Zero is by moving certain games from cable to big networks. While ABC will likely never be able to broadcast a week zero game with the magnitude of Kickoff Classic games like Notre Dame-Maryland, broadcasting any game is obviously better than nothing at all.
Imagine if this season started off with Colorado State facing Hawaii moving from an evening kickoff on CBS Sports Network to CBS in the early/mid-afternoon, followed by Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit manning the mic for a primetime Wyoming-New Mexico State showdown for Saturday Night Football on ABC.
Moving the game to ABC only helps the ratings while also giving exposure to schools.
Last year’s Week Zero games were plagued by low ratings all around, with the highest rated game featuring FCS Portland State on the road at BYU. It managed a whopping 0.6 rating and about 939,000 viewers.
Of course, some of this is due to the slate being dominated by lackluster games (lowly Oregon State, Rice and San Jose State taking on Colorado State, #14 Stanford and #19 South Florida respectively, though Hawai’i at UMass wound up entertaining, at least).
But the fact that ratings on cable networks lag behind the likes of ABC and CBS cannot be ignored; after all, all of the top ten highest rated games last year were televised on FOX, CBS, or ABC.
My other suggestion for Week Zero is making it part of the College Gameday slate. For two years in a row, there have been games on the slate that were worthy of a visit by Corso and Company.
Last year, ESPN missed a chance to either christen Colorado State’s new home with a visit or travel to San Jose to take a look at a ranked USF team fresh off of its best season ever.
This year, they will fail to take advantage of one of the best stories in the last couple years, the New Mexico State Aggies’ bowl run, and not visit Las Cruces.
Even Colorado State-Hawaii is worth a visit, as the run-and-shoot returns to the island, while Colorado State is one of the more consistent programs in the Group of Five.
ESPN’s Power 5 bias continues to show through their apathy towards Week Zero games. Week Zero provides a few Group of Five schools a rare chance at exposure, and ESPN and CBS are hurting these schools through a simple lack of effort and creativity.