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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / McCallie's Jackson Burns (7) and his teammates exit the locker room for warmups before the Division II-AAA BlueCross Bowl state championship against MBA at Tennessee Technological University's Tucker Stadium on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Cookeville, Tenn.

Get on the Choo-Choo

You know the rules, so of course we were going to link the excellent scoop TFP sports editor and preps sports guru Stephen Hargis delivered Wednesday afternoon.

Here is his story with the details of how Chattanooga is aiming to lift the state football championship games from Cookeville.

Having been to Tucker Stadium on the Tennessee Tech campus, well, there simply is no comparison between Finley Stadium and that old mother Tucker in Cookeville. (Calm down Spy, I double-checked the spelling.)

I hope the Blue Cross Bowl comes to town. Whatever is lost in the central location in our elongated state would be made up with the grace and ambiance of our glorious town. No offense Cookeville, but by comparison, we're more Gourmet Chef-ville.

The number of hotel rooms, the amenities downtown and in the South Side, we check every box other than being centrally located. And that matters, especially to those coming from West Tennessee.

But Memphis to Cookeville is still a haul, even if Shelby County to Hamilton County is a bigger haul.

Still, the importance of the moment matters too, and the stage should be better than Tucker Stadium.

Playing for a state high school football championship is the stuff of lifelong memories and the focus of decade-long dreams for these kids.

The TSSAA needs to make a statement that this game matters as much to the folks that run the game as it does to the kids who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to the game. An extra couple of hours in a car notwithstanding.

In fact, we're more than happy to host this thing next year and in 2022, which is the length of the bid, but after that, continue to increase the showcase and the venue for all of the high school players in Tennessee.

In Alabama, the state championships are alternated between Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn and Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa. For many years, the Georgia Dome was the home for the title games in the Peach State.

After two years in Chattanooga — again, stay as long as you want, considering the estimates of a $3 million annual economic impact would be more than welcomed — find a way to get a rotation between Nissan Stadium in Nashville where the Titans play or in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

Every high school football player dreams of playing in the state title game, and a small fraction of them do.

The TSSAA should do everything possible to make the platform as special and memorable as the pursuit of and playing for that dream.  

 

Same old channel

I am curious if sports will ever return to the TV numbers pre-pandemic.

The drops are staggering, and we have discussed this before. Everything other than the NFL has dropped at least 25 percent and most events have dipped more than a third from last year. And in most cases, last year was a drop from the year before that, and the numbers during the pandemic have reset record lows.

The latest is the Daytona 500, which cratered over the weekend. It was down more than a third in ratings (down 36% to 2.8) and viewership (down 34% to 4.83 million viewers) from 2020. And the numbers in 2020 were the worst on record before Sunday. That said, there was some positive news for NASCAR specifically, since the race was up from last year's averages in the time before the five-hour rain delay.

So maybe the weather hurt the numbers, but last year's 500 was pushed to a Monday because of rain and still got 7.33 million viewers and a 4.4 rating, and that was before we were all home during the day.

And this trend is universal and I'm not sure it's genesis or that out can be corrected. Because for all the hand-wringing about social commentary from players or sticking to sports, well, the Kentucky Derby and the Masters were down way more than the NBA, and the NFL, which was the starting point of the sports-related protests a few years ago, has fared better than any sport in the crashing vehicle of viewership.

Yes, there are a multitude of factors, and several of them will not be in front of us in years to come.

Lack of crowd hurts, because the atmosphere and environment are clearly and noticeably inferior at our favorite events. That said, when do you think we'll have full crowds again, and will all the folks come back when they open the gates?

Schedule changes hurt too, be them weather related or COVID related, because as much as Jules, Spy and I love Augusta, the Masters before Thanksgiving is not how God intended us to live.

The boast I expected from millions of Americans having access to legalized gambling has not helped. In fact, in some ways in terms of viewership it actually may be hurting the TV numbers. Consider this: If you are an online sports wagerer, the bets dictate your interest, not the sports or the specific game on ESPN or SportsSouth. So, in that regard, if you are riding the monster that is the Utah Jazz, you may be following online more than whatever game is on TNT.

There are myriad reasons why, but my question moving forward linger on will, as in will the TV numbers rebound?

 

Easy come and easy go

Yes, the Braves pitchers and catchers are in camp. As JTC noted, War Spring Baseball.

But as hope springs eternal when our baseball boys head to the leagues of Cactus and Grapefruit, the shadows of the final curtain loomed for two very famous names Wednesday.

First, there was the inevitable announcement that Mets farmhand Tim Tebow was retiring from baseball. In a lot of ways, that the former Heisman-winning QB and NFL first-round pick lasted five years chasing fly balls and a forever long dream of making the majors screams success.

His name may be close to as familiar but the numbers nor the accomplishments fade in comparison to Serena Williams, who was bounced from the Aussie Open and abruptly left the news conference when asked about her future and possible retirement.

Williams, 39, is still chasing a record-24th major title — she last won a major in 2018 — and she got tearful after being asked about whether she was saying "farewell."

The video of her exit — more reflective emotion than response or outburst that has been part of her career — was quite telling though.    

 

This and that

— Speaking of TV and sports ratings, I thought this was downright hard to believe. The Duke-UNC game from 10-plus days ago drew a 1.1 ratings and 1.87 million viewers on ESPN proper Saturday, Feb. 6. That's down more than 30% from last year and almost 605 from 2019 (Zion's shoe explosion) and the lowest number for the most recognizable rivalry in the sport since at least 2007. How's this for perspective college hoops declines? Oklahoma State-Kansas on ESPN proper in prime time last week with arguably the best NBA prospect in college hoops in the Cowboys' Cade Cunningham vs. a known name in the game drew 630,000 viewers ; the Call of Duty League season opener between Optic Chicago and Atlanta FaZe on something called Activision drew 130K. That's going to put a whole new kind of madness on CBS and NCAA bigwigs come March.

— I'm not entirely sure why a professional golfer hitting a shot like an amateur makes me feel better about myself, but it does. I know it's not a healthy approach to life, but to know the best in the world like Francesco Molinari can top a tee shot that travels 70 yards with his first swing of the day last Saturday at Pebble Beach, makes me realize it can happen to everyone. Except those folks don't get the universal "Two of the first tee" rule to use as they need. "There's many explanations and none, really," Molinari said when asked about it. In a lot of ways, there may not be a better definition for all of golf — the game, the passion felt by those of us who love it, the simplicity and the complexity, the poetry/power corollary, all of it — than Molinari's six words.

— So, the magnitude of the Fernando Tatis Jr. deal  (14 years, $340 million) with the Padres made me realize two things. First, the Braves got total steals by signing Ronald Acuña Jr. (8 years, $100 million) and Ozzie Albies (7 years, $35 million) before they became All-Stars. Also, it reinforces the greatness of Bobby Bonilla's decision to take deferred payments when the Mets bought him out. remember the Mets were extremely cash-strapped and owed Bonilla right at $6 million when they bought him out in 2000. So they agreed to pay him $1.19 million every July 1 starting in 2011. Those payments will go through 2035 — one year longer than Tatis Jr.'s recently signed deal with the Padres.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the pursuit of the new UT coaching staff to find their QB1.

— Mocs keep rolling. Here's more from Gene of Many Hats Henley as Lamont Paris and Co. got win No. 18 last night in overtime.

— The Utah Jazz are a gambling ATM right now. Seriously. With last night's 114-96 win over the Clippers, the Jazz, who were a 6.5-point favorite over L.A., are now 19-1-1 against the spread in their last 21 games.

— So June Jones — the real June Jones, former Falcons QB and college coach, not the regular reader around here and contest enterer who goes by June Jones — thinks Trevor Lawrence is not QB1 in this draft. Or even QB2. Jones has Lawrence as QB3, behind Zach Wilson and Mac Jones, not related and his QB1.

 

Today's questions

Big picture, will sports TV numbers ever return to pre-pandemic levels?

Will the TSSAA bring the state football title games to Chattanooga? Should the TSSAA bring the state football title games to Chattanooga?

As for today, Feb. 18, let's review.Happy birthday day John Travolta. He's 67 and had a rough couple of years. Wow, what a career, no?

Molly Ringwald is 53 today. Wow, kind of surprised she's not older.

It's national drink wine day. I support that that idea.

It's also national battery day. So there's that.
Rushmore of 'battery' and be creative. And don't forget the mailbag.

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