It’s one of the most pernicious parts of watching sports. It appeases no one. Not the TV audience. Especially not the live audience. Nobody. Likes. It. Yet it exists. What does it provide? Nothing. You don’t sit there waiting for it. Yet it comes anyway. In the great sport of basketball, if the coach doesn’t call one before seven minutes on the clock, it comes anyway. Hell, it might even come later if neither coach continues to call one. Football, even worse. 10 per half. And if that allotment isn’t reached naturally, don’t worry. It will be reached, like it or not. Like death and taxes, it is utterly inescapable.
Even the coaches aren’t fans. Momentum? Ha, good one. The TV timeout bows to nobody, except the pockets of the giant figures of American capitalism. And the more you think about it, the more American this phenomenon truly is. These constant interruptions, as well as some additional, even more asinine elements of the games we love to watch, are distinctly American. The loose way we treat time in American sports is inextricably linked to the most American of things; capitalism and television.
To address the obvious, anyone who’s ever watched an American sports game knows time is both a loose yet precise construct. Play clocks, shot clocks, sure, these exist and are immutable. But overall? Football is supposed to last 60 minutes, but four hours is a more reasonable time to expect. Basketball is supposed to last 48 minutes, but we all know that’s a lie. Baseball, the most American of them all, is also the most honest. Wouldn’t it be weird if a baseball game actually went by quickly? The difference is even more striking when compared to the world’s favorite game, soccer. Soccer is supposed to last 90 minutes. Add on a 15-minute halftime break and a couple minutes here and there for injury time, and you approach two hours. Reasonable, right? Yet why do I find myself so angry when rooting for my favorite teams in the American sports I oh so love?
Perhaps more so than any other sports, it seems basketball and football are made for TV. Frequent breaks allow for TV audiences to view all sorts of statistical bullshit and frivolous facts about gifted teenagers. It allows us to be inundated with as much information as possible. Unlike a soccer game, which will start at nine if it says it will, a football or basketball game faces no obligation. It will tell you it starts at one time, and will then dupe you to stuff more commercials in your face. Sensory overload is the name of the game. With the help of TV, sports aren’t just a means of entertainment anymore, they’re the biggest opportunity of every corporation on the planet. And their vested interest is, of course, only making us glued to the screen for longer. Sure, penalties and reviews also contribute to making the game longer, but in an understandable way. TV networks want to schedule more primetime games. Primetime games mean a greater advertising opportunity. More advertising opportunity means … you guessed it. This money game is startlingly transparent, yet it never fails to unnerve me.
It’s also understandable that certain styles of play lend to longer or shorter games. But these differences should amount to a blip. I find it ridiculous that the NCAA can try to squeeze as much advertising revenue they can out of their games. From March Madness alone, the organization gets nearly a billion dollars in revenue from TV. The artificial prolonging of games for revenue is particularly upsetting when you consider the exploitation of the athletes at the hands of the NCAA. These young men and women dedicate their lives for the entertainment of millions, while their bosses sit back and extract millions in revenue.
Television is not entirely to blame. After all, even without being broadcasted, the nature of these American sports are fundamentally different from those abroad. However, television can be held responsible for magnifying these differences to an unthinkable level. And yet we keep, and will keep on watching.