BCS deal means one nation of TV sports fans, no longer indivisible


November 21, 2008|By RAY FRAGER | RAY FRAGER,ray.frager@baltsun.com

Bailing out this week's sports media notes while considering whether to start following Henry Paulson around in case money falls out of his pockets:

* After ESPN announced its deal this week to take over the Bowl Championship Series games from Fox, I opined in my blog (baltimoresun.com/mediumwell, c'mon and click - it doesn't hurt) that we could be losing something as a sports society. Starting in 2011, the BCS title game will become available only via cable or satellite or some other conduit for pay television. This is a first for a major American sports championship.

At least when it has come to the most important games, we have been able to watch just as our fan forebears have, on over-the-air telecasts. However, those who don't receive ESPN - and with everyone tightening belts, more households might go without cable TV - will be left out of the national sports conversation. And that is a shame. After all, what unites us more than a spirited discussion about why Nick Saban was a dolt to pass up a chance to go for it on fourth-and-one?

A blog commenter pointed out that the ESPN deal doesn't kick in for two more years and perhaps our economy will have turned around by then. You, I and our 401(k)'s certainly hope so, but some part of the audience - it's less than 15 percent now - will be left out regardless.

And because this move is just part of the evolution of sports TV, let's allow ourselves a bit of a shudder by uttering the forbidden words: Super Bowl on pay per view.

* For those of you keeping score, the Foxes are sending Sunday's Ravens-Philadelphia Eagles game to 27 percent of the country. (San Francisco 49ers-Dallas Cowboys is tops among early games at 46 percent.) Fox's big doubleheader late game - New York Giants-Arizona Cardinals - is going out to 77 percent of the audience. Not us, though. We are among the 8 percent forced to see Washington Redskins-Seattle Seahawks. Would it help if we all turned toward New York and said, "No, thanks"?

* Fox has added recently retired Pro Bowl safety John Lynch as a game analyst for the rest of the season. He will work with play-by-play man Chris Rose.

* Tonight's Maryland-Vermont game on Comcast SportsNet (8 p.m.) is one of eight Terps men's contests the network is carrying this season. It also has two Towson games and one with UMBC.

* At SI.com, a critique of Bob Knight's addition to ESPN's College GameDay crew included the suggestion he wear a suit just like everyone else on the panel. I would suggest he instead dig up some of those plaid sport coats he wore long ago on the Indiana sideline. Then, somehow ESPN would need to grab the colorific Craig Sager away from Turner. Put Sager's fluorescent stylings next to Knight's retro look and just imagine how many high-definition televisions you could sell.

* It appears the long-running match between two teams we don't want to root for is not close to over. The Federal Communications Commission yesterday put aside the 60-day timeline - set in October - to settle the dispute between the NFL and Comcast over the NFL Network.

The FCC had found in favor of the NFL, ruling that Comcast did indeed discriminate against the league's network by placing it on a digital sports tier in Comcast's cable systems rather than on a more universal level of service. But Arthur Steinberg, an FCC administrative law judge, said he would take another look at the matter before giving his recommendation to FCC commissioners, whose vote is the final say.

The NFL contends Comcast is being vindictive because it didn't get the rights to the eight-game NFL package that airs on the NFL Network. Comcast says if it were forced to carry the NFL Network on a basic tier, many customers who don't care to watch the channel - my lord, would you even want to know such people? - would end up paying extra.

So it's going to drag on, but just so you know, Donovan McNabb, I don't think this one can end in a tie.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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