It remains to be seen the good that will arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the lifting of the ban on televised high school football figures to be one of them.
Once the University Interscholastic League, which governs public prep sports in the state, put aside its long-standing rule against live telecasts of Friday night football games, the wheels immediately began turning in athletic offices in the area and throughout Texas as to how to make it happen.
“We will definitely explore our options regarding broadcasting,” Temple assistant athletic director Steve Prentiss said. “But I also want to maximize the number of fans that we can have safely attend games in person. I also will want to maintain the relationships we have with our radio broadcast.”
Prentiss said there’s no shortage of advertisers already wanting to be part of Temple broadcasts, be it radio or television.
No surprise there. It’s a concept that is long overdue in modern Texas high school football. What local business with a keen interest in their school and the means to do so wouldn’t want to advertise? It’s a shame it’s taken a pandemic to bring it about.
UIL athletic director Charles Breithaupt stressed that this will be a one-and-done proposition to accommodate folks who have health concerns about attending live events with sizable crowds.
“It’s not permanent, it’s a one-time venture,” Breithaupt stated. “We know this: there will be many people who stay away because they are fearful, particularly the elderly and our senior citizens. We want to give them a chance to see the games based on what the local district allows.”
While Breithaupt sounds like he means it, and no doubt he does, he has opened the floodgates. Once the livestream cat is out of the bag, there won’t be any putting it back in. If this line is cast for consumers, who would take the bait and benefit from it, it would be exceedingly difficult to reel it back in and put the poles away for good when the season is done.
And, in this instance, why would there be any reason to do that?
The UIL has long rebuffed the notion of telecasting games with the stated purpose of protecting live attendance at local games. The concept had its place in its day. However, when it comes to Friday night football in Texas, nothing short of a global pandemic is going to severely impact the usual foot traffic through the gates of the local stadium.
Regardless of whether it’s an emergency or not, the time and technology have arrived for fans to have some availability to watch a game without physically attending. There have long been people of all ages who, for myriad of reasons, are unable to view games they would otherwise like to attend.
Radio and/or internet broadcasts have filled that immediacy gap. No one appreciates good radio broadcasts more than I, but we would all still prefer the ability to watch the games. The two mediums can hopefully be married in some instances with radio broadcasters providing the audio for the telecasts.
To a person, every athletic director contacted in this area showed high interest in attempting to deliver some form of livestreaming if feasibly possible from the 6A level on down. In fact, a few are even making the mental leap well beyond just Friday night football. Prentiss said, “I can see some real benefits of broadcasting all our other sporting events (like) volleyball, basketball, middle school athletics, etc…”
For those who perhaps have had sons or daughters or other family members who have played collegiate sports at various levels, the ability to catch some of those games on a live feed is a blessing. Even if their favorite athlete competes at a drivable Texas-based locale, one can still see most games if they can’t get to, say, Hammond, La., or Conway, Ark., on a Thursday night. The quality of the feed varies from location to location and, depending on the sport, a voice-over is nice, but not necessary.
Relatives and friends are more scattered than ever. The chance for grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to get to watch games at any level would likely be seized. Alumni from local schools who have moved away but are still interested keeping up with their alma mater would no doubt take advantage.
Like so much of life currently swirling around us, the situation is fluid. This, however, will be a change virtually everyone can embrace given the seemingly universal enthusiasm. No matter what the UIL’s stance is now, don’t expect the plug to be pulled on telecasts.