The Red Cap holds the media timeout sign out on the field during the second half of a college football game between the Syracuse Orange and the Ohio Bobcats on September 4, 2021, at Peden Stadium in Athens, OH. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

This may surprise you: On two of the past three weekends I have attended a high school game on Friday night and a college game on Saturday. And I am going to get right to the point.

The high school games were by far more enjoyable and entertaining.

Here’s why: 

There were a certain continuity and flow to the Friday night games. There weren’t nearly as many stoppages. And the stoppages weren’t nearly as long. 

Rick Cleveland

The high school players weren’t as big or as gifted or as fast. But the games were better.

That’s because the college games kept being interrupted by these men wearing a red cap and carrying a stick with a clock on it. We’ll call them TV commercial enforcers, who would step out onto the field three or four times a quarter and essentially stop the game for three minutes that seemed more like 10. This happened so that TV could show several different commercials selling everything from cars, to beer, to soft drinks, to insurance. You name it.

Meanwhile, in the stands, people baked or broiled. Or, in my case, stewed.

The average Division I college football game lasts three hours, 22 minutes. Some stretch to four hours and longer. Meanwhile, Millsaps and Sewanee played a two-hour, 37-minute, 27-21 game last Saturday. The difference? No TV timeouts.

You don’t notice it so much when you are at home, watching on TV, and use the three minutes to go fix a snack, or go get another beer, or go use the restroom. You sure as heck notice it when the restrooms are 50 yards and long lines away and the beer costs $10. 

And we wonder why there are huge gaps where people used to sit in the stands at stadiums these days. And we wonder why fans leave the stadium in droves beginning about halftime. We wonder why the student sections are often nearly empty in the fourth quarter. Boredom is a terrible thing.

Here’s the deal: In Division I college games these days, there are three TV timeouts in the first and third quarters, and four TV timeouts in the second and fourth quarters. They average about three minutes each. That’s an awful lot of dead time. These timeouts are known officially as “media timeouts.” Trust me, they are TV timeouts. Sports writers despise them. 

This won’t change soon. In college football these days, it is all about feeding the beast, and all the beast will eat is money. In Mississippi, the head coach at Ole Miss makes $9 million a year, or approximately 74 times as much as the state’s governor. Heck, the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss makes 16 times the annual salary of the governor. (No jokes about which one is more drastically overpaid.)

And that’s just the start. There are 61 employees listed in the Ole Miss football directory. Besides the 10 full-time coaches allowed by the NCAA, there are a lead analyst, three senior analysts and six more analysts. That’s a lot of analyzing. The head football strength and conditioning coach has four full-time assistants.

There are recruiters, lots of them, and assistant recruiters. And no, I am not picking on Ole Miss. This is everywhere at college football’s top level. The Georgia football employee directory lists a “head performance chef.”

What’s more, these programs at college football’s highest level are in a never-ending facilities race. They are in a never-ending struggle to keep up with their conference mates. 

And now we have name, image and likeness (NIL), which has raised the stakes still again. What used to be recruiting has become more like purchasing. College quarterbacks at the highest level have become millionaires. The left tackles who protect their blind side can’t be that far behind. Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., quite possibly the best player in college football, reportedly makes $1.3 million for his various NIL deals in this, his junior season. Somebody’s got to pay.

That somebody is TV. The SEC distributed $50 million to each of its member schools for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Most of that is TV money, which is why the guy with the red hat and the clock takes the field for three minutes at a time, 14 times a game, while thousands in the stands twiddle their thumbs.

This is coming from a guy who has spent, quite literally, a lifetime going to the games – games that used to last little over two hours and now often stretch to nearly twice that long. Too long. Too much dead time.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.