By Rick Vacek
Changes in 2019 PGA Tour schedule will be a major concession to football
September figures to look very different to PGA Tour fans in a couple of years.
But will it look better?
That’s the question I keep asking myself as I read about the plans to make dramatic changes in the 2019 schedule.
And here are the other questions I keep asking: Should golf wave a white flag and cede September to football? Is America still going to be in a football frenzy in 20 years – or even in 10 years?
Starting in two years, the PGA Championship moves from August to May and the Players Championship shifts from May to March. That will allow Tour officials, if they so desire, to shift the playoffs to August and end the season before Labor Day – before college and pro football get started.
They say they haven’t made that decision yet, but you can see how that putt is going to break. They’re going to chop the playoffs from five weeks to three by eliminating one tournament and the bye week, and the 2019 Tour Championship will finish on either Aug. 25 or Labor Day weekend, depending on how powerful they think college football is. The colleges get going right before Labor Day, and the NFL season traditionally starts on the Thursday after the holiday.
For today, for right now, that seems to make a lot of sense. Football is the monster. Exhibition games draw better ratings than regular-season baseball games. They dwarf the ratings for golf tournaments.
And once the NFL regular season starts, the dominance is even more dominant. I have to admit that I’ve never, in all these years, watched the Tour Championship the way I watch one of golf’s majors. There have been many years when I didn’t turn on the golf for one second in late September, and I’m someone who often will flip on the Golf Channel at odd times just to catch a few minutes of an LPGA event on the other side of the world.
I’m sure that Tour officials have charts and analytics and lots of input from advertisers and the TV networks. They obviously know way more about this than any of us do.
But that means they also know this: Football, the king of autumn, is headed for a fall. Youth football participation numbers keep plummeting as concussion studies produce grotesque statistics showing the effect of repeated blows to the head.
I would argue that every time an NFL player announces he’s quitting because of what the sport is doing to his health, that’s another hundred kids who will choose something else – or their parents will choose it for them. Every time a parent reads about the quality-of-life issues that dog retired players, there’s the potential that one more kid will be told to instead try soccer – even though soccer has its own concussion issues.
You can see it coming. The feeder system is going to run dry. Then a cash-strapped school district will disband its football programs. Then another will cave in to a concussion-related lawsuit. Pretty soon the colleges will be choosing from a thin, poorly trained population of football players, and that wave will be met by one from the opposite direction – of parents who have lost interest in watching such a violent game.
The interest isn’t waning now. Certainly not. Turn on ESPN, and it’s all you’ve heard about for weeks. It’s easy to see why golf would want to avoid that competition.
But the landscape could be far different in the 2030s, which is why I hope golf uses a pencil when it makes these plans. Of course, you know what’s going to happen: We’re probably going to get used to having the Tour Championship in August. Heck, we’ll probably love it.
I do hope, however, that as parents steer their kids away from daily head-on collisions to something less dangerous, they consider another option: What about golf? What about our great game? What about a sport that rewards honesty and drive and a different kind of athleticism and is plenty tough?
The football frenzy isn’t going to last forever. I can see a day when people are going ga-ga over golf. No, I haven’t taken any shots to the head lately. I’m just standing up for our sport.
The NFL season starts in a few days, and I’ve never been less excited about it – and I like football. I’ve just lost interest because I find it so sad to contemplate what these guys are doing to themselves.
I wonder how many people feel the same way. The ratings won’t show it now, but tuck this into your memory bank and see where things are in a few years. See if the king of autumn has fallen. Someday, it might stumble off its throne in a concussion-induced haze.