We live in a world of 24/7 media coverage. And sports gets more than it's fair share of the coverage. Whether it be ESPN, Fox Sports, NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network, The Big Ten Network or whatever, there is an endless list of sports programming for us to watch. Turn on a computer and you can find websites and blogs big and small devoted to sports. And sports talk radio, once an AM-only staple, can be found across the dial morning, noon and night.
These mediums cover sports at all levels. If you want to know what's going on with youth and high school sports in your area or nationally it can be found on the internet and television. College sports, which the National Collegiate Athletic Association tries hard to deny is a business, has television contracts with every major sports network. The Big Ten Conference has its own network as does Texas. Notre Dame football has every one of its home football games broadcast live on NBC. And, of course, there is no pro sport which does not have a network television contract or its own website.
The sports fan of today can find programming of their favorite sport at any time during the season and in the off-season. Programs like the drafting of college players, the release of the NFL schedule and the signing of high school players to college scholarships are annual events now. When it comes to sports programming there seems to be nothing that is off limits.
This was not always the case. There was a time when sports television programming was a Saturday, Sunday affair with the occasional weekday prime time event. If you wanted to know what was going on at home and around the country the six and eleven o'clock local news and the newspaper were your source for scores, statistics, transactions and feature stories. You could go a whole season without seeing games or highlights of certain teams around the country.
Here is a look at what sports programming was like in the 1970's before ESPN came along and the television, internet, sports talk radio boom began.
In the winter, it was basketball, boxing, hockey and ABC's "Wide World of Sports." If you had a pro basketball or hockey team their road games would be telecast from time to time on a local station, but never home games. There was usually a regional college basketball game telecast weekly. If the local team did not play on television there was a very good chance that you wouldn't see any highlights of the game. The newspaper would be your source for scores and stats. You could go from Monday to Friday without seeing any live sports at all. Not often, but you could.
On weekends there was the game of the week in college and pro basketball along with hockey. This was the only time where you could see teams from out of your area when they weren't playing the locals. And "Wide World of Sports" would give us everything from the Harlem Globetrotters to barrel jumping, demolition derby and stuntman Evel Knievel. That was it for the week and weekend.
Unless there was a boxing match. Boxing usually filled the air time during winter. Every weekend you could find a good boxing match and the networks would show a prime time card from time to time. Even championship matches. That sounds odd in today's world of pay per view cable, but it's true.
Spring would bring us baseball to go with the end of the basketball and hockey seasons. Just like with the winter if your local baseball team was at home than you had better go out to the ballpark to see them. They were not going to be on television. When they went on the road you could see them often, mostly on weekends and almost always on Sunday. The only other baseball was the Saturday afternoon and Monday night national games of the week on NBC and later ABC. The Saturday afternoon game was proceeded by the syndicated "This Week in Baseball" highlight show which filled us in on what happened around the country. Other than that, it was off to read the box score in the newspaper or hope that the local news had some highlights.
The summer was more baseball, boxing, "Wide World of Sports" and CBS "Sports Spectacular." Events like Wimbledon tennis and major golf tournaments were only telecast on Saturday and Sunday. The major league "All-Star" game was the highlight of the summer.
Fall brought us NCAA and NFL football. The colleges would play on Saturday afternoon and night. The NFL would play their games on Sunday afternoon and Monday Night. There were no Sunday or Thursday night games. In fact, Sunday night was off limits in all sports. Nothing was played anywhere after 7 o'clock eastern time.
As for highlights, the local news usually showed the home team and did post-game interviews in the locker room. Then they would show highlights of whatever the national game on their network was. And only their network. If the national game was on another network than you didn't see the highlights. This was the case with the studio shows on each network also. CBS did not show highlights of NBC games and NBC did not show CBS.
If you wanted highlights of all the teams than you had to wait until the syndicated NFL Films show "This Week in Pro Football" came on. Or hope that ABC's Monday Night Football showed your team on their halftime highlights. NFL Films also did a game of the week which was also syndicated.
Most of the pro teams had local television highlight shows that they would air on Monday night. And a pregame show on Sunday. This is where you could get a good bit of highlights from the previous Sunday's game.
College football was Saturday-only. There was usually a regional game and a national. ABC did them all. On Sunday morning "Notre Dame Football" with Lindsay Nelson announcing was a two-hour condensed version of the Fighting Irish's game the day before.
As for events like the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals and NHL Stanley Cup, well, they stood on their own, but were not really over-hyped. The World Series was the major event on the sports calendar. When baseball's World Series took place everything else was secondary. College football usually did not schedule around the World Series, but the NFL did. NBC would set their NFL schedule around the World Series and CBS would often not show a double header game during the series time slot. And when the series went to prime time it was must-see TV.
The Super Bowl was played no later than the third Sunday in January. And it was played in the afternoon, not at night. The pregame show was a half an hour. Halftime was short and the post-game a half an hour. The Pro Bowl all-star game was played the following week and then football was over.
Basketball and hockey usually finished up around the middle of May. The NBA playoffs were shown on weekends live. But on the weekdays it was tape delayed, if shown at all. Again if the local team was in and playing at home you either didn't get the game or it was tape delayed. On Wednesday and Friday nights, CBS would show a tape delayed playoff game after the 11 o'clock news.
The Stanley Cup playoffs were shown live on network television until the end of the 70s. Then it went to cable. But the championship finals were usually broadcast from start to finish.
As for the colleges, the football season ended on New Year's Day with the Rose, Cotton and Orange Bowls annually. The Sugar Bowl shifted between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Each of these games were shown nationally. As for the other bowl games, well there weren't that many of them and most were shown in syndication across the country.
The NCAA basketball tournament was not covered anywhere near the way it is today. If the locals weren't in it than you wouldn't get a weekday game. The regional finals and Final Four were shown live on NBC.
This is what it was like in the seventies. Sports had a natural order to them. Every sport had it's season. Basketball and hockey in the winter, baseball in the spring and summer and football in the fall. And that's how they were covered. Sports may have been talked about in the off-season, but hardly ever covered. Heck, even the sports that were in season were only covered to a certain extent.
Because of this, one could not get enough of sports. Because we usually had to wait a few days before the next live sporting event came on the air it made us appreciate it a little more. And it made the games more memorable, because we weren't bombarded with game after game and highlight after highlight. The buildup to big games was huge, because seeing them were few and far between, unlike today where every game is on television.
Now we get baseball every day during the season. We get basketball and hockey every night. Heck, even football which was always a weekend and Monday night game, has gone to seven days a week at the college level and Thursdays in the pros. We get soccer, softball, women's basketball, extreme sports, golf, tennis and just about everything else. If we don't get to see the games live, we can tape them or watch highlights later. Heck, we can even tape the game while we watch it and fast forward through the parts we don't want to watch.
Cable has brought us niche sports stations such as the NFL Network, NBA TV, NHL Network and MLB network. Not to mention ESPN and CBS University and the Big Ten Network. The Golf and Tennis channels exist, also. All of these sports have internet websites which has made the newspaper sports section all but obsolete. And sports talk radio keeps the fires stoked with constant 24/7 call in chatter.
It has gotten to the point where one game runs into another. One highlight runs into another. One soundbite runs into another. And one season runs into another. One hardly has a chance to digest what they've seen and heard when something else comes along. It's hard on the attention span.
And it's too much. It's way too much. Too many games. Too many highlights. Too much talk. Too much coverage. Too many ESPN networks. We know more about the athletes and coaches that we watch than our own neighbors.
But the world of 24/7 sports is here to stay. Because even though it has gone way overboard we have gotten to the point where we think we can't live without it. If it is taken away from us we want it back.
Most important 24/7 sports programming gives us a chance to pick and choose what we want to watch.
And that's all any sports fan can ask.