What the Deuce: Big Ten on ESPN

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Big Ten on ESPN

Yesterday, on the way to Wild Oats, I caught a couple of minutes of Mike Tirico and Dana Jacobson's interview with Big Ten Commisioner Jim Delaney on This is ESPN Radio. Not surprisingly, for the short time I listened, Delaney was answering questions about the Big Ten Network and the conference's inability to come to an agreement with the larger cable providers. Unfortunately, I reached my destination before Delaney stopped talking, and being somewhat green, I decided against sitting in my car listening to the interview. Of course, when I got back, the interview was over. Fortunately, you can find the entire 10:20 conversation here. Also, I was excited to see a link to the interview Tirico and Jacboson conducted with Lloyd Carr earlier during the program. If you aren't the listening type, here are the salient points from the interviews (questions and answers paraphrased):

Lloyd Carr:

Jacobson asks about the 4 straight losses to Ohio State and the fans' focusing on the Ohio State game even before the season has begun

Carr: It makes sense that the fans have high expectations and focus on this game because each school has it's rival and Ohio State is Michigan's. We're dedicated to turning it around.

Jacobson: Which team is the most improved team and which team was the hardest hit (loss of players to the NFL and/or graduation)?

Carr: You never know the impact of the guys lost or what you have in the younger players until the season begins. It's difficult to know who has improved until you have something on film. [Carr went on to say that all will be good in addition to making generic comments about each - Penn State has a veteran QB, Wisconsin brings back a lot of guys but lost a veteran QB, Ohio State is breaking in a new QB but their defense returns a strong core]

Tirico: Have you changed your mind about a playoff system?

Carr: I've changed from the traditionalist view but I'm still a traditionalist. In fairness to the players, you have to open it up. With two teams you'll have situations...I think it's doable and will happen, but the question is when.

Jacobson poorly phrases a question about whether having a senior team has any impact on getting ready for the season (Note this is a follow up, in sorts, to an earlier question Tirico asked about how teams get ready for the regular season without having exhibitions like the NFL does).

Offensively, it gives us tremendous confidence that they (Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, etc.) have played together at a high level...they are talented and motivated because we came up short last year. The key will be replacing Steve Breaston on special teams [Carr talked about Breaston's ability to make big plays and also mentioned the defense as the other key].

The interview concluded with the usual jovial banter between the hosts and guest.

Jim Delaney:

Tirico opens strong asking where the Big Ten is in it's negotiations with the cable providers

Delaney: It's a continuing challenge. (emphasis mine). We have access to 15-16 million homes via DirecTV. We've hit the 100 number mark with the smaller cable operators and a nationwide deal with AT&T. Some negotiations are going well and not so well with Comcast. (empahsis mine). We feel good about where we are right now but cable poses signifcant challenges.

Tirico: What is the purpose of creating a channel like this?

Delaney: There were two main reasons...when ESPN launched ESPN U and 360 we noticed more of our games were migrating to a narrower platform. (emphasis added). The second deals with the syndication of basketball games and that it was harder to get some of the games on. [Delaney additionally commented that the network was created to expand events and make them available to more people]. It's really about promoting the institutions and the brands. The channel will offer deep coverage of the institutions. [Delaney concluded by talking about specific programming on the channel including a highlight show - he compared this show to SportsCenter and how, instead of seeing a 7-10 second clip of a football game, viewers would get 7-10 minutes ].

Tirico: You're going to have what we have, but on a regional basis...? (emphasis added).

Delaney: No doubt about it. (emphasis added). [Delaney added that, in the long term, the network will allow the conference to build its brand and teams].

Jacobson asks about a conference championship game for football.

Delaney: We can't have a conference championship without a 12th team [Jacobson then asks about expansion]. It's possible in the long, long run. The game has the potential for marketing and fan appeal, but it will not drive expansion. Expansion will be driven by a schools that fits academically, is competitive, and adds the conference's marketing appeal. We haven't identified that institution.

Jacobson asks about moving conference games for football later into the season (e.g. after Thanksgiving) to avoid a repeat of last year's voting

[Delaney began by praising Florida and USC for their performances against Ohio State and Michigan]. The reality is that 11 schools want a bye and 6 don't want the schedule to extend past Thanksgiving [I don't know how this works because 11+6=17...my assumption is that there are schools that want both the bye and season to end before Thanksgiving]. The other option is to start earlier in August but that would require NCAA rule changes and that is unlikely. We are exploring changing the schedule where the schools who wanted to play after Thanksgiving could and the ones that didn't want to would not.

Delaney concluded the interview by saying that he does not believe there is widespread support for a (an?) NFL style playoff and that the "plus 1" might be an option but that the same problems would arise in the "plus 1" situation as does right now.

As expected, Carr's interview was bland and non-informative - hell, he wouldn't even answer Jacobson's question about if Carr was using a book or any other non-football item, like he did in 1997, to motivate the team. On the other hand, the interview with Delaney was comical, in a sad way. Delaney cited Big Ten games moving to smaller platforms as his reason for starting the Big Ten Network but his unwillingness to accept less for the channel threatens to re-create what Delaney set out to solve! Even more comical was his admission that the channel is regional and appeals to mainly Big Ten fans (who predominately live in the Midwest). That's not going to help in negotiations with Comcast.

I'm not going to go into who I think is right and who is wrong - I think the blame is on both. I think Delaney and the Big Ten are taking a ridiculous position by overvaluing their asset. Comcast is the Devil. We've all come to the conclusion that there's going to be no movement by the end of this week and that's why I'll be in a smoke filled bar at noon on Saturday.


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