Big Ten Network scheduled to launch in August but…
By all indications the Big Ten Network will be nothing short of top-notch. Especially if you live in Big Ten territory and crave college sports.
Scheduled to launch sometime in August, the Big Ten Network is expected to show 350-400 live events during the upcoming school year and will include coverage of 35 football games, 105 men’s basketball and 55 women’s basketball games, various championships in all Big Ten sports, archived events (it owns the rights to tapes of Big Ten football and basketball back to 1960), Olympic programming, coaches shows and more than 600 institutional programs.
Softball, track, gymnastics, wrestling? All covered.
By the network’s third year, half the programming will be devoted to women’s sports.
Distribution, a problem facing all upstart networks.
Remember Victory Sports? Good idea, but it could never gain access on cable distributors.
And it folded.
And right now, the Big Ten Network is faced with the same dilemma.
Worried? Yes. Panic? No.
"June 21 is not the time to jump off the bridge,’’ Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney said on a conference call Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the day the Big Ten announced plans to form the network.
"All the experts and advisors I talked to said not to expect any major distribution deals on June 21 or even July 15. It could happen later in the summer or maybe even after launch.
"ESPN, ESPN2 or the NFL Network all were smaller when they launched than where we are on June 21.’’
The Network is a joint venture between the conference and Fox Cable Networks.
So far the only agreements the Big Ten Network has announced have been with DirecTV, AT&T and Buckeye Cable System (150,000 subscriber system in Ohio and Michigan). Plus there’s between 30 and 40 smaller cable companies which plan to pick up the network.
But none of big suppliers, like Comcast or Charter Communications.
Delaney insists that companies in Big Ten markets carry the network on basic cable. Comcast, for one, said the cost is too high and it should only be offered on its digital tier or as part of a subscription package.
"We’d like to make the network available to those who want to watch it and not force customers who have no interest in the content to have to pay for it," Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen told The New York Times this week.
Delaney shot back at Comcast over a press release which said the Big Ten network will show "second and third-tier sporting events," called it "a niche sports channel" and added: "Indiana basketball fans don’t want to watch Iowa volleyball, but the Big Ten wants everyone to pay for their new network."
"In the Midwest, when you’re talking about a women’s sports team, you talk about them with respect," Delany said. "They’re not second-tier. Certainly, games at Michigan and Penn State and Ohio State — I don’t care who the opponent is, those are not second-tier games. To the extent that those remarks were intended to denigrate institutions or teams or, in particular the women’s volleyball team at Iowa, I think they ought to be rethought. I think if clarifications are necessary, that’s fine. And really, if they were intended to denigrate, there ought to be an apology."
No way that was coming from Cohen, who later told the Associated Press: "Commissioner, you are a representative of an athletic conference made up of some of the finest academic institutions in the country. Those institutions — and the students they seek to educate — should expect all of their representatives to maintain basic standards of integrity. Your mischaracterizations and overstatements are not consistent with such standards. Our hope is that we can keep our differing opinions regarding this carriage issue from resulting in any further personal attacks."
Doesn’t sound like an agreement is coming anytime soon.
Paul Christian is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He writes a weekly Friday column dealing with TV and radio sports and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org