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Charter tries to get Gophers games

By now University of Minnesota Gophers men's basketball fans know they cannot see very many of their games on TV.

Broadcasting rights to cover the Gophers were bought by ESPN and then sold to Victory Sports Network, which is a new regional sports network not available in this market.

Victory Sports negotiated with Twin Cities-based KSTC-TV to carry 11 of the Gophers' games, but again, those are not being seen locally.

"We cannot carry every broadcast station in the area due to regulatory and technical constraints. Much of the programming is syndicated and is already carried on other broadcast stations currently offered," said Charter Communications General Manager John Crowley in a statement issued a week ago.

"Charter is trying to hold costs down for our customers at a time when programming costs, particularly sports programming costs, are sky-rocketing at 30 percent a year," he said.

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Still, Charter is negotiating with Victory Sports, a spokesman said Thursday. So there's a chance games may be seen on cable TV in the Rochester area, although only four more games are scheduled for Victory Sports. Four other games will be carried by Twin Cities-based KSTP-TV. The Feb. 21 game at Michigan State is scheduled for ESPN and the March 2 or 3 season finale is scheduled for CBS.

Saturday's game at Michigan (3:30 p.m.) is on Victory Sports.

TV coverage is expected to change next season so games can be seen as they were with the now-defunct Midwest Sports Channel.

If you're upset, don't bother calling the university. The conference controls TV rights for all member schools in basketball and football.

All Gopher games are available via satellite on Direct TV, however.

Around the tube

A major overhaul at Fox Sports Net will include the cancellation of the nightly "National Sports Report" and six editions of "Regional Sports Report."

"National Sports Report," originally envisioned as a challenger to ESPN's "SportsCenter," will air for the final time on Feb. 10. Starting the next day, FSN will have sports news breaks twice or four times an hour from 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. The shorter reports will be similar to the updates heard on radio.

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Mike Ditka was coach of the Chicago Bears when they hosted Philadelphia in the infamous "Fog Bowl" in 1988. Now he's part of the "NFL Today" crew.

"It was bright and sunny when the game started," he said, "and that's when we scored. But when it ended you couldn't see a thing. Unbelievable. The fog came in and with no wind, just stopped. You couldn't see across the field in the second half."

Expect more prime-time NFL playoff games. Last Saturday, the Jets-Raiders matchup on ABC pulled a 15.5 national rating. "That's an outstanding rating," said Dennis Lewin, NFL senior vice president for broadcasting and network televison. "The Saturday night game definitely provided more people the opportunity to see a playoff game than a 11:30 a.m. game would have.''

There'll be another prime-time game Saturday with New England hosting Oakland at 7.

Sunday, though, remains the same, with an 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. game. Those times are not likely to change.

"Sunday night the networks have issue with its prime-time programming," said Phil Simms, who will analyze the Patriots-Raiders game with play-by-play announcer Greg Gumbel. "Face it. A lot of people still work Saturday mornings and afternoons and can't watch. It's tougher to see a Saturday game than one on Sunday.

"I would be surprised if the NFL went away with a traditional Sunday playoff schedule."

Paul Christian is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He writes a Friday column devoted to TV and radio sports. He can be reached a pchristian@postbulletin.com

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