Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Big Ten Channel

Yesterday the Big Ten Conference announced two huge media agreements.

In the first agreement, the Big Ten has contracted with ABC/ESPN to broadcast up to 41 Big Ten football games per year for the next 10 years. Up to 17 games will be broadcast on ABC and up to 25 games will be broadcast on ESPN/ESPN2. In addition, Big Ten games that are covered on ABC but not shown regionally will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2.

This would have been handy for me last year when I was in Nashville on the weekend of the Michigan game. The game was broadcast on ABC, but due to my region I was forced to watch an SEC game. Had this agreement been in place I could have still watched the PSU/Michigan game on one of the ESPN channels. Now Penn State fans across the country will be able to watch more Penn State football games. Also included in the deal are plans to broadcast up to 59 men's basketball games as well as up to 12 women's basketball and volleyball matches. This is a great deal for the Big Ten Conference, Penn State, and the fans.

In the second agreement, the Big Ten has teamed with the Fox Network to create the Big Ten Channel. The Big Ten Channel will broadcast 35 football games per year. Each school will appear twice including at least one conference game.

I'm trying to keep an open mind about the Big Ten Channel, but my first gut instinct is this is going to suck for me. I'm just a basic cable type of guy. Up until now, living in the Philadelphia area I've been pretty lucky in seeing most Penn State games on television. If the game wasn't on ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2, the local WB channel would pick it up and broadcast it on ESPNU. I think last year I watched the Northwestern and Illinois games on ESPNU. The only game I think I was forced to pull out the AM/FM boom box and listen on the radio was the Central Michigan game.

Under the new agreement, I will most likely have to watch these types of games against lesser opponents on the Big Ten Channel. The availability of the Big Ten Channel is yet to be determined. Currently, the only agreement is with DirectTV through their Total Choice Package. So right now, to get the Big Ten Channel you will first have to be a DirectTV subscriber and you will need to get their Total Choice Package. FOX Network will negotiate with local cable providers to broadcast the channel. So there is a chance you may get the Big Ten Channel on cable, but most likely it will not be free. It will probably be part of some deluxe package offered by your cable provider.

For Penn State fans outside of the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland areas, this is great news. This will at least give them an option to see more Penn State games, all-be-it at a price. But for local fans like myself, this deal takes regionally broadcast games and forces me to pay if I want to watch them. If you're a die-hard Northwestern or Indiana fan, you might as well switch to DirectTV now. Your teams will be regular players on Big Ten TV. The bad news for PSU fans is if we have a few more down years like in the past, we might become regulars too.

I have until August of 2007 to see if the local cable provider will offer the Big Ten Channel or decide if I'm going to switch to DirectTV. Personally, I don't think I will fork over an extra $50 or whatever to see Penn State roll up the score on Indiana and Akron. I would prefer to put that money towards going to the game in person or buying a nice boom box to listen to the games on the radio. But if Penn State has another down year, you may see as many as half their games on the Big Ten Channel which may change my attitude.

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