Football Friday: NFL popularity, college football attendance and the importance of assistant coaches

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 1:35 PM

The Cincinnati Bengals kicked off training camp Friday, July 29 at their practice fields near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Nick Graham
The Cincinnati Bengals kicked off training camp Friday, July 29 at their practice fields near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF(Nick Graham)

The football offseason is here, sadly, but football never stops. 

From recruiting to the draft to spring practice, free agency, offseason workouts and relentless random drama, the gridiron game is pretty good at remaining in the news. 

Keeping up with all of it can be difficult, though, especially if you have any interest in, you know, other sports that are actually playing games right now. 

That said, there’s no such thing as too much football, so I’m going to try to stop at least once each week to highlight what’s going on with the game. 

Friday makes the most sense, right? 

Well, we’ll see how long I can actually keep it up, but here are some things that caught my eye this week: 

ESPN had a really good story about the popularity of the NFL. 

In my view, Mina Kimes did an excellent job examining a topic that has become rather tortured over the past two years. 

It doesn’t gloss over problems nor overemphasize any of them, either, which puts her in the minority of people who have tried to tackle this topic. 

At this point, I have come to the conclusion just about everything that has been cited as a possible reason for declining TV ratings has had some effect. 

That includes changing viewing habits, lack of mainstream stars because of retirements and injuries, non-competitive prime-time games, pace of play, confusing rules, legal issues (domestic violence, drugs, etc.), revelations about the true toll head injuries have taken on some players and, yes, the protests during the national anthem. 

I don’t think any of those things individually have made a major impact (aside perhaps from the first one, which has hurt TV at large more than the NFL), but there’s fairly solid evidence all of them have had at least some impact. 

I don’t think people are turning off the NFL in droves because of the protests, but I know of real-life examples of some who have, so the impact is certainly more than zero. (That goes for those unhappy with the protests and those who think Colin Kaepernick has been treated unfairly, too.) 

Stars help draw in the casual viewers who make the difference between good and great ratings, and fewer people are going to keep watching if the score gets out of hand. 

That’s just common sense. 

Also: While average viewing time decreased again (that’s what ratings measure), roughly the same total number people still tuned in. That was also true last year, and it suggests overall interest has remained at or near same level. 

However, the NFL has cannibalized itself by adding more viewing windows which water down the average ratings but still engage a whole bunch of people. 

If the audience is more spread out but still there, that’s probably fine with the NFL as long as the league can stomach the near-constant negativity from the people who are too lazy to look beyond what they want the answer to be. 

That sees to be most people — but fortunately not Mina Kimes… 

This week also brought word major college football attendance suffered a steep decline. 

I think a lot of people are examining this issue from the wrong end. 

The value of attending games probably has not decreased much, if at all, in the eyes of the public. 

Considering the major cost and inconvenience of attendance compared to staying at home, it’s probably a miracle anyone still goes to games to major sporting events at all. 

And yet millions of people do, so that should tell us something about the true value with the public. 

That’s also probably why attendance remains solid at lower-profile sports like minor league baseball and soccer, where the price is much more agreeable. 

Those sports are not facing any less outside competition than the major sports are and they have smaller fanbases, but they still enjoy consistent crowds because people needs things to do and there’s still something fun about getting out and enjoying a sporting event with a few thousand other people live and in person. 

Obviously the appeal of staying home has grown, especially since so many more games are on TV now (I’d rather watch three or four games in a day than one, a choice that was not so readily available even a decade ago) but the game-day experience is still strong enough to overcome that for millions of people, so maybe the powers that be are worried about the wrong end of the spectrum. 

That said, the game-day experience has eroded.

With the terrible pace of play in football, basketball and baseball currently and the lack of ability to communicate consistently, I don’t blame students for being less interested in going. 

Especially because of, you guessed it, the aforementioned cost and the ability to watch more games at once at home. 

The good news here, though, if I am right is that nothing too drastic needs to be done. 

Thanks to the influx of TV money, the cost of attendance can be slashed, and those pace-of-play issues can be addressed, too. 

Do those two things and I think attendance issues will be solved. 

Lastly, the issue of college football coaching pay was raised this week because Ohio State made a big deal about giving raises to all of its assistants. 

To be honest, I don’t care much about how much money pro athletes and coaches make anymore. 

It’s been Monopoly money for nearly my whole life, and I know it’s always going to go up because I have a basic understanding of economics. 

At the professional level, it matters in terms of what my team can afford to do (especially if there is a salary cap), but as far as the raw salary figures? Yeah, I don’t care. It has zero effect on my life if Bryce Harper makes $4 million or $40 million next year. 

I also understand there’s a big divide in how college coaches and college players are compensated, but that’s a debate better left to another day. 

For now, coaches operate on an open market, and that market determines their value, whatever that might turn out to be. 

So I found this take from cleveland.com at odds with reality.  

Because you know what they say about college football.

Assistant coaches are the most important part of the program.

Right after the players, the head coach, the facilities, the NFL track record, the locker rooms, the alternate uniforms, the stadium, the fanbase, the national TV exposure and the flavor of the smoothies at the juice bar at the program headquarters, assistant coaches are the key to building a successful program.

It is not wholly without merit — some assistants are replaceable, no question — but it kind of loses steam if you’re aware Urban Meyer losing his assistants at Florida literally ruined the program to the point it has still not recovered, Ohio State’s offense has been a tire fire since offensive coordinator Tom Herman left three years ago and the defense (and safety play) got a lot better after Everett Withers was replaced. 

Furthermore, Ohio State had a new linebackers coach this year, and the linebackers weren’t as good as they were the year before. 

The Buckeyes got a new quarterbacks coach, and the quarterbacks played better. 

Coincidence? Maybe, but I doubt it. 

Aside from that, it’s pretty common knowledge assistants are crucial in recruiting. 

No matter how good the head coach is at recruiting, he is not the one forging the relationships that ultimate decide most recruiting battles. 

That is the assistants, so rating them collectively behind everything but the actual players and the head coach seems more than a little ridiculous. 

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Jesse Winker: Reds ‘are going to ride the wave’

Published: Sunday, June 24, 2018 @ 4:01 PM

Reds closer Raisel Iglesias celebrates a victory over the Cubs on Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds closer Raisel Iglesias celebrates a victory over the Cubs on Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Jesse Winker bounced as he rounded third base, hopping high into the air before slapping hands with third-base coach Billy Hatcher.

“I was pretty happy,” Winker said.

Winker did come back down to earth after his pinch-hit, three-run home run in the seventh inning. The Cincinnati Reds, however, continue to soar. Their 8-6 victory against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday at Great American Ball Park gave them a season-high seven victories in a row and 10 wins in their last 12 games.

» RELATED: Injured Senzel sees Reds play in person for first time

Winker’s home run came in a seven-run seventh inning as the Reds rallied from a 6-1 deficit to sweep four games from the Cubs in Cincinnati for the first time since April 1983. None of the current Reds were born when that sweep occurred. Joey Votto was born five months later.

“We were focused on today’s game,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “It wasn’t about a sweep. It’s about trying to just get better and better and win some ballgames. We just really have put a nice string of games together. These other games we were up and really played flawless. Today we were down and kept pushing and came back and got it.”

» PHOTOS: Reds beat Cubs 8-6

While the Reds (32-45) still sit in last place in the National League Central Division, four games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates, they are making up ground fast. They trailed Pittsburgh by 9½ games on June 9. The Reds trailed first-place Milwaukee by 17½ games on June 9 and are now 13½ games back.

“We know what we can do as a team,” Winker said. “We can all play this game. It’s fun to win. But I don’t think anybody’s surprised by what we’re doing. If you look around, we’re all kind of acting pretty normal right now. It’s what we expect to do. It’s cool coming to the field expecting to win. It’s a very good feeling. Right now, we’re on a good wave, and we’re going to ride the wave.”

» RELATED: Reds set sights on escaping basement

The Reds completed their first perfect homestand of at least six games since May 2008. In the last seven games, Reds batters are hitting .322 with 14 home runs.

The Reds even got home runs by pitchers on consecutive days for the first time since 2006. One day after Anthony DeSclafani hit a grand slam in an 11-2 victory, Michael Lorenzen hit a solo home run with the Reds trailing 5-0 in the fifth.

“You just feel the momentum in here,” Lorenzen said. “A game like today, it just feels like we’re not meant to lose.”

Lorenzen and Winker hit pinch-hit home runs, making Riggleman look good.

“With Lorenzen, it’s a matter of not using a bench player with nobody on base,” Riggleman said. “If we had somebody on base, we would have had somebody else hitting. With Wink, he’s a great option to have off the bench. He’s done great things coming off the bench.”

NOTES: Joey Votto went 3-for-4 and drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a double. He raised his average to .305. … Raisel Iglesias recorded his 13th save with a perfect ninth inning. … The Reds and Cubs drew 36,818 fans on Saturday and 30,508 fans on Sunday. It’s the first time this season the Reds have topped 30,000 fans in back-to-back home games.

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NASCAR pit reporter Wendy Venturini hit by car while jogging

Published: Sunday, June 24, 2018 @ 10:36 AM

NASCAR pit reporter Wendy Venturini, right, is recovering from injuries after she was hit by a car while jogging Saturday in California.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
NASCAR pit reporter Wendy Venturini, right, is recovering from injuries after she was hit by a car while jogging Saturday in California.(Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR pit reporter Wendy Venturini suffered a skull fracture and concussion Saturday after she was hit by a car while jogging in Novato, California, according to a news release from Venturini Racing.

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Venturini, 39, was in California to cover Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race in Sonoma. She will remain in the hospital for several days, the news release said.

“She’s completely coherent and conversational, and I have talked to her on two occasions today," said Doug Rice, president and general manager of Performance Racing Network. "They told her she would have a really good headache for a couple of days.”

Venturini's father, Bill, is a two-time Auto Racing Club of America champion who founded Venturini Motorsports in 1982, The Sporting News reported.

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Three newest members of Dayton women’s basketball team arrive on campus

Published: Sunday, June 24, 2018 @ 12:09 PM

Dayton coach Shauna Green watches the team practice before the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. David Jablonski/Staff
Staff Writer
Dayton coach Shauna Green watches the team practice before the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. David Jablonski/Staff(Staff Writer)

The three newest members of the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team — Ella Skeens, Amari Davidson and Kyla Whitehead — arrived on campus this weekend. The University of Dayton’s second summer session begins Monday and ends with exams Aug. 3-4.

“Very excited to finally have these three on campus!!” Dayton coach Shauna Green wrote on Twitter. “Can not wait to see what the future holds for them.”

» STAFF NEWS: Dayton hires new assistant coach

“Excited to have Ella, Amari and Kyla on campus!” assistant coach Calamity McEntire wrote on Twitter. “They have a sign hanging in their apartment that says, ‘Don’t wish for it, work for it.’ I loved it!!”

Here’s a quick glance at the three Dayton freshmen:

• Skeens, 5-foot-11 wing: She finished her career with 2,283 points. She’s the all-time leading scorer in the history of Chillicothe Southeastern High School, Ross Country and the Scioto Valley Conference. Skeens committed to Dayton on June 4, 2017.

• Davidson, 6-2 forward: The Avon High School graduate committed to Dayton on Aug. 17, 2017. She’ll be the third member of her family to play college basketball. Sierra Davison, a 6-0 forward, played in six games last season as a junior at Cleveland State. Shay Davidson, a 5-11 forward, played in 18 games last season as a freshman at Notre Dame College.

•  Whitehead, 6-2 forward: She helped lead Pickerington Central to the Division I state championship in March. She had nine points and five rebounds in a 49-45 victory against Solon in the title game. Whitehead committed to Dayton on Sept. 26, 2017.

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Reds set sights on moving out of NL Central basement

Published: Sunday, June 24, 2018 @ 1:05 PM

The Reds' Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton celebrate at home plate after a grand slam by Votto in the third inning against the Tigers on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Great American Ball Park.
David Jablonski - Staff Writer
The Reds' Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton celebrate at home plate after a grand slam by Votto in the third inning against the Tigers on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at Great American Ball Park.(David Jablonski - Staff Writer)

About six weeks ago, Cincinnati Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman talked to his club about setting short-term goals.

“Let's go catch that fourth-place club,” Riggleman said. “Then after that, let's go get that third-place club.”

The Reds seemed destined to spend all season in the National League Central Division basement at the time, and that still seemed the case earlier this month. The Reds were 21 games under .500 on June 9.

» BAD NEWS: Top prospect out for season

However, after winning nine of their last 11 games, including six in a row entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, the Reds (31-45) have moved within five games of fourth-place Pittsburgh.

Riggleman hasn’t given any motivational speeches to get the team going. He gave those speeches more often in the first month on the job. Now he talks to the team after each game and reviews the game while looking ahead to the next one. He’s more selective about when he makes big speeches.

With the Reds playing almost every day, Riggleman can’t approach the job as a football coach would.

“It’s too much,” Riggleman said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Jim, again with the talk?' I leave them alone a little big and get their attention another time. I think a lot of people think you've got pound in every message every day. It's more subtle in baseball.”

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