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It’s time to liberate the archive of college football game tape

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You get the ability to watch whatever old game you want. Rights-holders and schools get more money.

ESPN. Banner Society illustration.

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NFL Game Pass costs $99.99 a year. For that price, I can go all the way back to 2012 and watch any game I want, commercial-free. The NFL understands that its product has a shelf life extending beyond five broadcast hours on a fall weekend, and that they might be able to sell it to people who want it. That’s maybe the kindest thing anyone’s said about the NFL, but it’s also accurate. If someone wants something, they will almost always try to sell it to them.

In contrast: A person hanging around their house during self-isolation suddenly remembers the 2015 Mississippi State/Arkansas game. This person thinks about what an underrated and overlooked barnburner of a game that was, a 51-50 freakshow featuring Dak Prescott throwing for five touchdowns and 501 yards, and Razorbacks QB Brandon Allen somehow besting him by throwing for seven touchdowns and 406 yards through the air. The whole thing ended not on a score, but when the Bulldogs’ Beniquez Brown blocked a 29-yard field goal attempt with 39 seconds left. The cameras caught Mississippi State fans getting so excited they fought each other in the stands.

It is a whale of a game. Not the friendly kind, but the species that headbutts passing freighters for fun and yearns to flip a diver into the air with the flick of its tail.

This hypothetical person might want to go watch that whole game just for fun. If that person – definitely not me, procrastinating on a spring Tuesday afternoon avoiding both the dishes and work – wanted to do so, then they’d have to go find a pirated copy of the game on YouTube. This would be hosted by someone named H@wGz1lla83720. His legal Armor of God is the caption beneath the video “I do not claim rights or ownership of this video.” If this person wanted to share this game with more than four people, it would be taken down forever by Google for copyright violation in a matter of hours anyway.

To recap: We live in a world where I can go all the way back to 2013 and on demand watch a 13-6 abomination between a 4-12 Jacksonville Jaguars team and a genuinely reprehensible 2-14 Houston Texans squad. However, I can’t hand someone a credit card to watch a classic late night football barfight between Arkansas and Mississippi State.

That is an unjust world, and we should not tolerate it. It’s time for someone to storm the college football archives and let the people have what they need. It’s time to open the archives and let the strategic reserve of football flow to the people. We can’t and wouldn’t steal it, no, never. Instead, go ahead and charge us a reasonable fee. Let prime-aged college football flow to consumers, and help everyone pass the hours between now and whatever resembles normal.

I can’t make this pitch any simpler, easier, or more desperately needed than this. Eyeballs here, spreadsheet bots. This is a new revenue stream in a moment when I know rights-holders need one badly. How do I know? Because I saw the grim reaper of advertising market death last week: Chris Berman, stuffed into a sports coat straining at the buttons, hawking extended auto warranties in prime time during a replay of the Cavs beating the Warriors in game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals. His kingdom is death, and its landscape is made of low-budget ads for tactical sun visors and home generators.

Side note: I didn’t know how un-tactical my life was until the commercial slate of the undead slid over from its native environment on the ACC Network and took over ESPN. There are tactical sunglasses so I can drive to Costco exactly like I did before, but now I do it for the troops. There is a tactical car visor to keep me from driving directly into the sun and vaporizing my entire family in the process, something that has somehow not happened yet to me, and will definitely happen eventually if I keep driving without one.

I owe the Tactical ad wave this, too. I got to meet the Most Boomer Alive, aka the man in the ad for the TACTICAL EARPIECES that are definitely not just troop-branded hearing aids. Look at how happy he is destroying the hearing of his sleeping grandchildren!

Dude is doing this in the name of watching Rutgers-Illinois at noon. The generational commitment to making everyone share the pain of your mistakes on display here – in this case, voluntary and lasting hearing damage – is simply incredible. This man will drag his whole family to hell with him, but not before stopping in Champaign for an 11-5 Illini win over the Scarlet Knights.

Watching that particular game at any volume is a desperate act in theory. Right now is a desperate time in reality. A lot of businesses got caught without reserves or the ability to adapt on the fly. That even includes previously bulletproof cable channels incapable of thriving off lucrative television carriage fees most people scarcely realized they were paying.

There is something left in the strategic reserve, rights-holders of the world. It’s not new live content, no. But I promise, people will watch it, and not just by appointment. Watching a replay of USC-Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl in prime time is fun and fine. Watching any game ever at exactly the time I want to watch said game? That would not only be better, but also way closer to the current realities of how people consume pretty much everything.

Because that’s not even how any of this works anymore, not even with sports. Even before a pandemic forced a good chunk of life indoors and online, streaming had already eroded the idea of networks controlling schedules for almost anyone. The lone exception to that move: The sports fan, still attached in season to league game schedules, and in the offseason to the whims of programmers looking to fill dead air with the occasional replay.

Right now, there’s not even those broadcast conventions holding back places like ESPN, the Big Ten Network, and, if it still exists, the Pac-12 Network from just putting their archives out there. There isn’t much excuse from the tech side, either, especially for places like ESPN that already have streaming subscription platforms up and running well.

There isn’t even a way to argue that there isn’t demand for it, because right now there is demand for anything resembling sports at all. People rewatched a 15-year-old college football game. They watched Scott Storch and Mannie Fresh go on Instagram Live and play songs at each other. They watch marble races at this point — or like I did, reruns of the 1979 World’s Strongest Man Contest on the CBS Sports Network.

Two nights ago I watched archival footage of a 50-year-old man blowing up a rubber hot water bottle for two minutes until it exploded. Then, Brent Musburger interviewed a very strong and very winded fat man in a singlet after that man deadlifted Colombo’s car.

That part was good as hell, actually. But the rest is bad, all just a lot of very, very bad out there. Change that, people in charge. Open the floodgates on decades of watch time for intellectual property you already own – property that isn’t doing a thing right now for anyone, including you.

Put them all to use. Let anyone revisit the splendor of Ohio State absolutely getting housed by Purdue 49-20 in 2018 any time they like. Open the doors and let moments like Louisville’s 2002 monsoon upset of #4 Florida State roll wherever people want them to roll. Give me the entire Kick Six game, whenever I want it, and at whatever volume I choose. Let people get as freaky as they want to with it, even if they want to watch the 9-6 Georgia-Missouri 2015 game again. (This should not ever be allowed, actually.)

We will take it, because it’s not just the offseason for football. It’s the offseason for everything we know as normal right now, including for sports. It won’t weaken the brand. It won’t keep people from watching live games, at least if the NFL’s ratings are any indication. Old games on demand would be a canned good for the college football palate: Not fresh goods, but will still do the job all the same. All we need is someone sharp enough to open them.