Hello ESPN [waves aimlessly at nondescript buildings in Connecticut]. Would you like some football on TV in March? Yes, you would! I know this because your organization was instrumental in bringing the XFL (RIP) back to life (RIP again) in order to goose viewership for your many TV networks in the lean, depressing months of the American calendar that feature no football.
Would you like some more football for (likely) very little money in rights fees and no traces of Vince McMahon? Would you like to weave the viewership and marketing of this cheap March football into your existing, expensive college inventory with easily identifiable narratives and news items you can manipulate to serve your many, many studio programs?
Come to Mississippi! Or Kansas! Or the parts of Texas that make people sad!
The National Junior College Athletic Association recently announced a “plan of action” that would start its football season after March 25, almost two full months after National Signing Day. That nullifies the ostensible purpose of JUCO football to serve as a talent feeder system to four-year schools. The NCAA will have to modify its recruiting and signing windows for the 2020-‘21 cycle.
Coaching staffs will have far less to evaluate these players on during the normal recruiting cycle. Without a full season of tape, will JUCO players lose scholarship spots? Will coaches gamble and hold out? Will the NCAA create some kind of special allotment for schools to sign players in this “lost” JUCO season? Could this March season run concurrent with Spring practices, when more and more FBS players choose to leave their programs, thus creating immediate needs to be filled by JUCO signees?
Hell if we know, but DAMN THIS IS SOME GOOD TV. It’s instant P5 brand recognition: 247’s Top 20 JUCO players signed with schools like Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma, LSU, Auburn, Oregon, Nebraska and Texas A&M. The top JUCO players for 2021 already have verbals to Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, Missouri and others. And as any recruiter can tell you, there’s plenty of flipping left.
If you’re ESPN, this is perfect programming specifically for ESPNU: The NCAA prohibits high school games from being shown on school or conference specific networks (remember Texas A&M being OUTRAGED high school games would air on LHN? Those were the days) and with recruiting being the driving force to watch a JUCO game, an affiliation-free network seems like the best choice.
Here’s how we’d produce these games for you, ESPN:
- Show like, the actual games being played, but whatever. We’re not here to mine the depths of a rivalry or speculate on a particular coach’s status. THIS IS LIVE CROOTIN. Actually, if the game sucks just bail on it completely and move to No. 2. If nothing else this is a fascinating opportunity for fans to simply watch a football game absent any extant storylines or emotion. Everyone gets to cheer for the explosions!
- CELEBRITY CAMEOS. Chances are (if the NCAA doesn’t fuck this up) this bizarre March/April window will allow FBS coaches to be on the sidelines of these games. And while we don’t expect the rule prohibiting a coach to comment on a player they’re actively recruiting to be lifted, we sure can just interview these guys live on the sidelines and fish for something incriminating.
- Do all of the “Last Chance U” tropes LIVE. Put mics on players, interview them about their careers during games, and put momma and them in the stands with a sideline reporter. EXPONENTIAL LEVELS OF TOM RINALDI. Live. During the game. Tote a piano around the stadium.
Look ESPN, you need this. You’ve dabbled in recruiting in some aspects, committed in others, but you’ve never gone full Luginbill. There’s always been a sizable enough voice of dissent; that recruiting is the “dirty” business, that it shouldn’t interfere with “the real game” (as if that makes any sense).
This is prime niche property, not unlike bowling or darts. And unlike those other corners of the sports and sports-adjacent landscape, this one has big, recognizable logos slapped all over it. Here’s your chance to commit to crootin’, without apology and with aplomb.