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Anchor Drop, August 1, 2019: 30 Days to Kickoff

It’s August, and the Anchor Drop is back.

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NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

The Anchor Drop is back, rested, and ready to go, and it’s now August — 30 days away from kickoff. #30 for Vanderbilt is redshirt freshman linebacker Salua Masina, a four-star recruit who was a late addition to the 2018 class and didn’t see action in his first year on campus.

In the official “it’s so close that you can smell it” moment of the offseason, Vanderbilt opens fall camp on Friday, and we have six things to watch.

The first thing to watch is, of course, the quarterback competition, and here’s where I interject to say that I don’t think they’ve already made a decision and are simply stating that it’s an open competition for bad-faith reasons. For one thing, this doesn’t square with what we know about Derek Mason — for instance, in 2016, Mason was perfectly fine naming Kyle Shurmur the starter over Wade Freebeck a full month before fall camp opened.

For another thing, if you already know that Riley Neal is going to be the starter, what exactly are you gaining by not announcing that now? The best argument I can gather is that with only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, Mason doesn’t want to lose one of them — something that obviously might happen once a starter is named. But that explanation doesn’t affect whether a quarterback will transfer, but when. If one of the quarterbacks is going to transfer if he’s not the starter, that’s going to happen regardless of when he finds out he’s not the starter. (That apparently already happened with Jamil Muhammad, who transferred to Georgia State because he wanted to play a lot sooner than he was going to play at Vanderbilt.)

The short version is that the “Riley Neal is going to be the starter, but they’re holding off on naming him such” take implies a level of bad faith that we simply haven’t seen so far in Mason’s tenure. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he will be the starter, but it does mean that the competition is currently as open as the coach says it is.

And in another sign the season is nigh, single-game tickets go on sale today.

Derek Mason is also confident in the defense.

Off the West End

Over at The Athletic ($), Nicole Auerbach writes about falling college football attendance and what schools are going to do about it, and it’s not the lack of Wi-Fi in stadiums (something that only a relatively small number of fans actually care about, and certainly not something that’s a decision point for anyone wanting to attend a game.)

There are a couple of things that I think are big factors here (remember, this is a problem that’s specific to college football and not something that’s happening across all sports) and that don’t get talked about much — and both are mostly out of the schools’ control. One, television has degraded the in-person experience in a way that just hasn’t happened in other sports. Games often run longer than four hours because of television commercials, and they kick off at weird times — again, dictated by television. Literally the only explanation for why Ole Miss’s season opener at Memphis would kick off at 11 AM is because that’s the time that a television executive wanted it to start; otherwise, uh, why are we playing a game in Memphis in August at that time? It’s gotten to the point that even bodybag games have start times dictated by TV, and oftentimes those games are played at a time when the weather is simply awful. Oh, yeah, and all those commercial breaks are terrible if you’re actually in the stands.

And the other thing, and this isn’t really a Vanderbilt problem (being located in Nashville and everything): a whole bunch of college football stadiums are located in places that are actually inconvenient for most of the people attending them. Many college football programs have long depended on fans making a drive of two hours or more, each way, to attend a football game — and in dealing with traffic that a town of 50,000 (or less than that, in some cases) just isn’t equipped to handle. Oh, yeah, and most of those towns don’t have nearly enough hotel rooms to house all of the fans, which leads to things like price gouging and two-night minimums. And if you live three hours away from the stadium and the game either kicks off at 11 AM or in the evening? You basically have no choice to get a hotel room for two nights... unless, of course, you can watch the game on TV. Which you can.

Interestingly, other sports have much less one-sided relationships with television networks than college football. TV networks need the NFL more than the NFL needs them, which means that the NFL gets to dictate that games basically don’t last much more than three hours and are in a relatively convenient window for the fans to attend. (Hell, the NFL for a long time held enough sway to get the 100-mile blackout rule.) And the other three major pro sports rely on regional television networks that basically exist for the purpose of televising the teams’ games, which means that MLB teams as a rule play at 7 PM local time on weeknights — and MLB doesn’t suddenly have five-minute breaks in between innings so that the network can sell more ads.

But the simple reality is that college football has become the ultimate television sport, and it’s come at the expense of in-person attendance.


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