All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and most of you aren’t working because you’re all a bunch of slackers.

I, however, am working — having already knocked out three hours of radio this morning. I’d also encourage you guys to check out “Lock It In” later today on FS1 at 4:30 eastern if you’re just sitting at home with nothing better to do.

Here’s our Die Hard Christmas skit if you haven’t already seen it. I was born to play Ellis.

And I was also born to play Cousin Eddie.

Want to rent a mansion on the beach? If you’re ready for warm weather my guys at have a great deal for you, 10% off all bookings if you use the code Santa Claus.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the mailbag and keep Christmas week rolling:

William writes:

“Miami, Tennessee, USC, Texas or Nebraska-will any of them ever return to sustained national prominence again?”

Sure, but it’s all about the head coach.

People like to focus on the state of the programs, but the head coach makes or breaks a program now, not the program itself. If Miami, Tennessee, USC, Texas or Nebraska hire the right coach they will contend for league and national championships again, if they hire the wrong coaches, they won’t.

Put it this way, if Nick Saban had been hired at any of these schools in 2006 instead of Alabama, do you think he’d have at least two national titles at each of these schools?

I do.

Now that doesn’t mean all of these jobs are created equally or that Saban necessarily could have dominated to the same extent he has at Alabama.

But the distance between Alabama and Tennessee, the two winningest schools in SEC history, isn’t that substantial. Saban would have dominated at Tennessee just like he’s dominated at Alabama.

In fact, if you want to look at the next twenty years of football talent, don’t overlook a city like Nashville exploding with talent.

The explosion of Nashville football talent has turned the state of Tennessee into one of the ten best states for top football recruits in the country.

If anything, the future for Tennessee football recruiting has never been better. Between Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte, the Volunteer program can win a national championship only with players within four hours from campus. I’m not sure that’s ever been the case before for the program.

Clearly Miami, Texas, and USC have talent oozing out everywhere as well, but that isn’t true, for instance, of Nebraska.

Which is why I think by far that Nebraska is the toughest of these jobs.

I’d rank the jobs thusly:

1. Texas

2. USC

3. Tennessee

4. Miami

5. Nebraska

Why do I have Miami fourth on this list?

People overrate Miami because they don’t really understand the school — it’s a small private school in Coral Gables, Florida. The fan base is almost nonexistent compared to these other schools.

Miami, when it’s rolling, attracts big time, inner city football players, but the school’s student body is like most small, rich private schools. It’s filled with rich kids.

It’s kind of wild, honestly, that the U ever became a football powerhouse because it doesn’t have very much in common with the other big football powerhouses. It’s every bit as unlikely as, say, Georgetown suddenly becoming one of the most popular teams in inner city Washington, D.C. with John Thompson’s run of dominance.

Georgetown was a small, religious athletic backwater when John Thompson put the school on the map. It’s harder to maintain athletic excellence at schools like these because they don’t have substantial fan bases. Their schools just aren’t big enough.

Instead the school’s runs are predicated on fans in the city, Miami and Washington, D.C., adopting a college program as their top choice.

The problem is those fan bases are mostly fairweather, akin to the fans that show up in a city when a pro sports franchise makes a big run.

The moment the team sinks back into mediocrity the fan base disappears.

Say what you will about, for instance, Nebraska and Tennessee, but the fan bases are diehard and massive, even when the teams stink.

That’s not true at a school like Miami.

And there’s a decent amount of fairweather fandom at USC too. Tennessee and Nebraska have never had a stadium as empty as the Coliseum has been when things get bad in Los Angeles.

Big city fandom, in general, is much less consistent than state school obsession.

Remember, one of the great things about the Nevin Shapiro booster case at Miami was he said the Hurricanes couldn’t pay what the top SEC schools could pay for top talent. That’s why they took players to strip clubs and out on yachts — or even paid for abortions — because they couldn’t compete when it came to cash.

Charlie writes:

“How will the new SEC TV deal impact future NFL negotiations?”

Good question.

I think one reason CBS tapped out on the SEC negotiations was to try and preserve their cash for the NFL negotiations, which will be upcoming soon.

The $300+ million CBS would have spent on the SEC they can now redirect to trying to maintain their AFC regional television package.

My bet would also be that the money Disney spent on the SEC kills the chances that ABC/ESPN makes a run at anything other than Monday Night Football.

While ESPN’s business is fading fast, Disney remains loaded with cash. I simply can’t imagine Disney letting the NFL walk. So I suspect that ABC will make a big run at keeping Monday Night Football. Maybe Disney even puts forth a huge bid to try and take away the Sunday Ticket from DirecTV in an effort to make ESPN+ a must have asset for every sports fan.

But that really comes down to what Disney is willing to spend for sports content.

The money Disney is spending to put the SEC on ABC puts the SEC within hailing distance of the NFL’s Thursday night football package. Right now that package is around $600 million a year and the SEC game of the week will now be $400 million+.

The lesson, I think, is that football, at least the NFL and top college football conference version, is worth its weight in gold.

I think what you’re seeing in college football is that the SEC and the Big Ten are your platinum packages and then there’s a big drop off in the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12 deals.

That presumes, however, that someone like Apple or Amazon doesn’t just decide to, for instance, buy the Pac 12 and bring the entire conference in house.

I still maintain there’s a good chance Amazon or Apple end up buying CBS or Fox before all is said and done. Hell, maybe Apple even decides to buy Disney, which would be really wild to see.

Remember, Apple’s got the cash to buy Disney outright.

That would create an entertainment heavyweight the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Chuck writes:

“Hi Clay. What do you ascribe as the primary factor between the 90% fan approval of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and the near universal rejection by critics aka the Rotten Tomato mafia?”

I think the crazed Star Wars uber-fan and the critics who tend to be crazed Star Wars uber-fans too have lost their connection to what these movies initially represented — great escapist fun for kids and the young at heart.

Star Wars has never been complex cinema, it’s summer escapist fare that most of us were introduced to when we were kids. It’s a western in space.

There’s a reason my boys can follow and love Star Wars, it’s because the movies aren’t that complicated. Good and evil are clearly delineated, especially in episodes IV, V, VI and I. A big part of the frustration for fans, I think, is the movies didn’t necessarily age with their fan base.

That is, the same kid who loved a movie at eight, recognizes the narrative failings on a film more at 28 and 38 than they did at eight.

I don’t think your average person is sitting around contemplating all the rules of being a Jedi and how they correspond over the nine films in the Skywalker canon.

I mean, we’re talking about a spaceship, the Millenium Falcon, that regularly flies upside down and no one ever breaks their neck slamming into the ceiling.

But I think critics and certain uber-fans do.

I care less about the Jedi dogma and more about the overall entertainment of the movie. And most people are like me, they aren’t watching the movies obsessively and over and over again to ensure they fit tightly together from a logical perspective, they’re just looking for a couple of hours of fun that reminds them of why they liked the movies in the first place.

Now, I’ll readily admit that I was more critical of “Game of Thrones” narrative flaws than I was and am of Star Wars narrative flaws, but that’s because “Game of Thrones” is actually an intelligent show. It aspires to something more than childlike entertainment. I’ve never felt like Star Wars aspired to anything other than childlike entertainment.

The disconnect between the average fan and the average critics is, again, because most people view Star Wars like I do.

I really enjoyed Episode IX and thought it was very well done because it felt like a natural outgrowth of the initial trilogy.

My kids felt the same way.

Sean writes:

“Is Ryan Tannehill good enough to win a road playoff game in Arrowhead?”


I mean, Marcus Mariota won a playoff game at Arrowhead.

And this year’s Titans are much better, I think, than the Titans team that went into Arrowhead and won a couple of years ago in the playoffs.

What’s more, the Chiefs already lost to the Colts and the Texans at Arrowhead this year and they already lost to the Titans as well. That means they went 1-3 against the AFC South.

Plus, Andy Reid is 1-9 against the Titans in his career and the Titans have won four straight games against the Chiefs.

So it’s not crazy at all to think the Titans could win this game.

Now it would be the most Titans move imaginable to go on the road and lose to the Texans on Sunday, but assuming they get into the playoffs I think they’re certainly good enough to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Do I think they will?

Of course not, they’re the Titans and it’s not 1999 — I don’t expect them to win any playoff game that matters.

But they’re certainly good enough to win in Kansas City.

BlindEye writes:

“I’ve watched the NBA for 20 years. The product is more fun to watch than ever and this season is the most competitive in years, but ratings are down anyways. Is it just politics?” 

NBA ratings are down big this year — double digits so far this year — for six main reasons in my opinion: 1. they’ve alienated a large segment of their casual fans with the woke politics 2. the China hypocrisy, which started the league off on a bad footing 3. “load management” has convinced casual fans the league isn’t worth paying attention to 4. LeBron went west and the interest in the eastern conference declined precipitously with his departure 5. massive entertainment competition from streaming companies continues to grow. 6. some top players — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant — are out for the season with injuries.

I think it’s a combination of all six of these factors, but the only one that’s different this year than last year is the China mess and the injuries. (But there are major injuries every year in all sports. So I tend to give less credence to injuries. After all, LeBron missed a ton of games last year with injuries too and his Lakers are much better this year than they were last year.)

So for everyone out there who wants to make arguments otherwise, the five factors other than China I cited above were just as prevalent in 2018 as they are in 2019.

Which is why I think the China mess has had the biggest impact.

Now this makes left wing sportswriters crazy — go look at them rant about this hypothesis of mine on social media — but, again, it’s the only thing that’s changed this year.

When I try and come up with a hypothesis for why something is worse this year than it was last year, call me crazy, but I look for something that changed.

So why do I think China suddenly had an outsize impact?

What often happens, in my opinion, is players and leagues take fan interest for granted. And they don’t realize how there are tipping points for fan engagement. For instance, a casual fan in the middle part of the country might lean conservative, but still be a basketball fan. So he might put up with players and coaches ripping Donald Trump at every turn because he still likes the game and he’s willing to overlook this disconnect. But then something like China happens and the hypocrisy becomes so frustrating that he swears off the league.

There’s a tipping point for him where his frustrations with a league finally reach a point where he changes his behavior.

Remember, unlike say this website, which only appeals to a certain niche of sports fans, sports league are in the business of appealing to everyone. And I think the leagues and players overlook the cognitive dissonance that fans are willing to put up with. Sure, the average diehard NBA fan may vote Democratic and hate Donald Trump. But there are also millions of American sports fans who voted for Trump and like the NBA. But these casual fans are more likely to find a tipping point where the league’s politics turns them off to such an extent that they leave.

They aren’t diehards.

They’re the casual fans, the ones who watch on Christmas and might flip on a game and have a beer during the season, but aren’t building their night around the league.

These fans are only loyal to a point; they can be fickle if you annoy them too much.

The NFL found this out the hard way.

NFL ratings declined by nearly 19% over two years as they grappled with the Colin Kaepernick controversy. When the league finally got out of the politics business, guess what, those fickle, casual fans came back and watched football again.

That’s why the NFL’s ratings are up for a second straight year. The NFL won them back by making the focus of their game the game itself.

I think there are a series of body blows that the NBA has delivered to fans in Middle America, the middle-aged white guy who loves basketball, but doesn’t want to hear about the word owner being banned from the NBA or doesn’t want to hear about the league pulling its all star game out of North Carolina over a transgender bathroom bill. They don’t want Gregg Popovich or Steve Kerr lecturing them about politics either.

That fan may take those hits one after the other, but eventually you get tired of it and decide to spend your time consuming other content.

I think China was their tipping point.

After all the political talk and ripping of the United States, the same carping players and coaches bent the knee to China.

And I think a bunch of guys just said, “To hell with it!”

That’s the 15% the NBA has lost.

Again, and I keep hammering this home, NBA ratings are less than half what they were when Michael Jordan was at his apex in the late 1990’s. Jordan’s brand was iconic, he touched everyone with his excellence, but name me a single thing he said that you remember other than relating to basketball.

You can’t.

He understood that basketball was his brand and that was why people loved him.

I think social media has sold guys like LeBron a false bill of goods. Sure, every time he gets political he may get a ton of likes on Instagram and Twitter, but he’s preaching to his woke choir.

Social media isn’t real life.

I think LeBron’s alienating more people than he’s adding as fans by deciding to get political.

Most people want their athletes to stick to sports.

That doesn’t mean you have to do it — we all have free speech in this country — but there’s a reason why the Jordan brand still dunks on every other shoe in America. It’s because it’s pure, it represents sporting excellence and that’s it.

The NBA used to sell itself via a branding campaign called NBA action is fantastic. Now what does the NBA sell itself as?

I’m not even sure.

Which is insane.

Because this isn’t complicated. James Carville cut to the essence of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign with this catchphrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Well, if I were advising the NBA, I’d do the same thing.

“It’s the basketball, stupid!”

Stop worrying about whether people like you on social media and start worrying about whether people enjoy watching your product.


“Will you eventually run for office?”

Potentially, yes.

My plan is to get filthy rich in my forties so I can afford to do whatever I’d like for the rest of my life.

That may include politics.

Or it might not.

I drive my wife crazy now by telling her I’m going to retire at fifty years old. She’s already complaining about how I’ll be bored to death.

But a part of me would like to unplug from the media matrix and disappear for a while down the road. I’m not sure how many more 15 and 16 hour days I can string together.

Then again I also don’t know what it will be like in a decade when my kids are suddenly off on their own and don’t want to spend time with me all the time either.

So we’ll see.

Right now I’d bet I’ll run for office one day. But that could change.

And before I can do that I have to get really rich so I don’t have to be at the beck and call of other rich people all day long every day to run a political campaign.

Thanks for reading and for the good questions.

Hope y’all enjoy the college and NFL  games this weekend.

I can’t wait for games all day Saturday and Sunday.

Let’s go Titans!

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.