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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Big Two and Little Eight Network

I came home this past Friday evening to visit my family for a post-Thanksgiving get together and as soon as I walked through the door, I hurriedly turned on the television to view my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes take on their first major conference foe of the young '08-'09 season in the West Virginia Mountaineers. My first inclination was to flip to the Big 10 Network to watch this semi-final of the Las Vegas Invitational. I figured since it was a Friday evening and the two competing schools have relatively decent basketball pedigrees, the Big 10 Network would for sure be airing this game. Unfortunately, I would be sadly mistaken. In place of the basketball contest was a biography of Michigan football called Hail to The Victors: A History of Michigan Football. I was appalled. I can understand a program of this nature airing on another day, like Saturday with the Big 10 regular season being over and some fans still wanting a football fix, but airing this program in the state of Iowa during a Hawkeye game was inexplicable.
Fortunately, a local station had picked up the game through the Big East Network and sparing my parents' living room from some sort of angry karate dance. What is the point of having a network dedicated to a conference that will snub a live game for a historical biopic on Bo Schembechler? Sure, if my sofa was located in Kalamazoo, the Michigan show makes sense, but I happened to be sitting on Iowa soil. The fact that the Big East Network was carrying the game really annoyed me. If the Big East Network (a league centered around its New York area schools) can display a team representing its smallest media market, then the suits in Chicago can definitely green light a quality Iowa game. Fine, snub the Hawks if they're challenging a meager Sun Belt Conference team but not a team that made the NCAA Tournament the previous year.
Sadly, the Big 10 Network has morphed into what many college graduates of the great conference feared, a station dedicated to the its two powers in Michigan and Ohio State. I understand that the schools have a history of success in sports and a large alumni base to support the events they participate in, yet its not like the remaining nine schools lack tradition and maintain puny alum totals. Sure, you will get your occasional female soccer game or field hockey match to promote the Network's supposed support of gender equality but I'm still sitting through the first 20 minutes of Big 10 Tonight's focus on Michigan's latest hoops domination of Boondock U, while hoping for just a mention of the final score for the Iowa basketball game.
Equality needs to be stressed at Big 10 headquarters. For all of the school's sports to receive proper and fair exposure, more regionalized games and the adoption of local sports-oriented shows should be instituted on the network's programming. By contracting with local shows, the network guarantees dedicated and insightful programs catered to each school's fanbase without the high monetary cost. By working with local shows, it lessons the Big 10's need to invest in enlarging it's infrastructure for creating individual programs for all eleven universities. I feel that working with local programming will also allow more obscure sports to get air time in their prime state markets. Most colleges have recording capabilities for all of their sporting events no matter how crude. With local outlets gaining slot times, these sports can be shown more prominently. This will eliminate the random token obscure sport contest that the Big 10 Network airs to keep its detractors in check and allow for more coordinated airing of the less popular team sports.
Finally, by instituting local radio call-in shows within the television programming, the network will bring in the message board crowd. By tapping into this rabid fan devotion to recruiting and coaching job status that has become a year around obsession. Lets face it, the majority of Big 10 Network watchers are hardcore fans. Providing outlets for team die hards to share detailed information and gain further team access will quiet the scrutiny regarding the network's devotion to the elite athletic programs.
Dedication to the Big 10 and to all of the schools has to be maintained as the most important priority for the network. The network can't allow itself to become embroiled in the search for profit. It must allow all of the sports no matter the gender to have a spot on the network. I'm not saying to air men's gymnastics on fall weekends, just make sure they get on television and the viewers that want to see the sport can stay up late or get up early to watch it. This ideal is even easier to uphold with the advent of technology and the prominence of DVRs (Digital Video Recorders). Therefore, it doesn't matter if you put a sport on at two in the morning, with a DVR, fans can just record the program and watch it the next day.
We must remember that education and equality are still a pillar of the Big 10 and equal exposure of all sports can be a great development. Its possible that more fans can be taught the nuances of unfamiliar sports and possibly even become major supporters. Through adoption of these ideas, Big 10 fans can all find happiness with the network in displaying their favorite school and sports.
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