JANUARY 1, 2001
My name is Ulysses S. Spectator, age 50, born in the Great American Postwar Baby Boom of the '50s, raised to manhood in the Great American TV Sports Boom of the '60s, and now a lively, though graying, resident of Duluth, a postman by profession, a sports fan by preference. I am here to tell you that 1 am pretty pleased with life in the 21st century.
The ozone layer is a bit more depleted and the resulting greenhouse warmth makes winter pretty nice in Duluth. It is New Year's Day, and the temperature is 50°. Very pleasant. However, I do miss that cozy-cocoon sensation I have experienced on so many New Year's Days past as I sat snug in front of my TV, watching hour after hour of college bowl games, while bone-freezing winds whipped off the ice pack on Lake Superior.
But today I'm going to be too busy to care about that. I am going to watch all of the 24 scheduled bowl games. Like most serious American sports fans, I have Home Control Truck (HCT) installed in my living room. This relatively inexpensive ($1,250) state-of-the-art system allows me to call up my own pictures, sound and instant replays as network directors of old once did in their control trucks.
For the record, neither networks nor control trucks as we knew them are any longer involved in TV sports. The networks dropped out in the mid-1990s, whining to the end about skyrocketing rights fees and every American's God-given entitlement to free televised sport. After the networks backed out, each major sports league or organization—the NCAA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA—took over its own centralized television operations, creating what are known as master webs.
Each master web has control over everything connected with TV for its league or organization, from setting pay-per-view fees to selling advertising to producing telecasts. The various master webs operate in complete autonomy. However, to cut costs, all master webs share the same massive central production facilities in the 36-story Manhattan skyscraper that used to be CBS headquarters. Once known as Black Rock, the building is nicknamed Big MOACT, short for the "Mother of All Control Trucks."
Everything that I receive on Home Control Truck comes from Big MOACT, where today the NCAA master web is producing all 24 bowl games via on-site camera-and-sound transmissions from 24 different stadiums. My HCT system, which is fairly typical for someone with my income, includes a wall of 16 small TV monitors, plus my own director's microphone, tucked behind one of the monitors, and a console to select whatever pictures and sounds I want to appear on my central eight-foot, high-definition TV screen, known as Big Eye.
Because there is so much going on today, the NCAA's basic production-control computer at Big MOACT is programmed so that a sudden crowd roar from one of the games will instantly superimpose a message on Big Eye notifying me that a VEM (Very Exciting Moment) has occurred. The message will then indicate how I can call up the moment from the Big Tape Replay at Big MOACT. I can also order up my own choice of specific VEMs from any game—such as my favorites: ADMB (All Dixieland Marching Bands) and CIPBM (Cheerleaders in Particularly Brief Miniskirts).
The big game today is the No. 1 Bowl, which is the climax of a postseason elimination tournament among the eight best college teams. The bowl's full name is the Budweiser/Preparation H No. 1 Bowl, and it matches the Notre Dame General Electrics against the Southern Cal Toshibas. As I said, each sports TV master web goes its own separate way in all things. This includes each web's choice of revenue sources, and the NCAA has emphasized corporate sponsorships more than most.
The big money crunch for the NCAA came after the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that colleges were guilty of participating in a form of discrimination bordering on slavery as long as they pretended to require varsity athletes to attend class and did not pay them openly for their participation in sports. Thus, all college players are now given their paychecks in a public ceremony after each game. There is a salary ceiling of $50,000 a year in order to distinguish college players from full-fledged professionals. Nevertheless, the upfront player payrolls added such a load to athletic department budgets that the NCAA had to recruit corporate sponsors to purchase the athletic departments outright.