Dang ol' Google News Search, I tell you what. Here's a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette from former IU defensive back Curtis Randle El, best known as the big brother of IU legend Antwaan Randle El. He provides the student-athlete's perspective:
The amount of time and effort put into preparing for each and every game was tremendous, and it was always disappointing when family or friends weren't able to watch an un-televised game. The Big Ten Network would ensure that all athletes, regardless of gender or sport, would receive more airtime and coverage.
CRE makes a fair point. It's great that many athletes, particularly in non-revenue sports, will get some more exposure. I often stumble across Big XII and Pac-10 non-revenue sports on Fox Sports Net, so it probably will help the recruiting efforts of Big Ten programs, particularly in sports such as soccer and swimming where so many of the top recruits are from other regions, now that the coaches can promise some national (well, hopefully) TV coverage. Does that make me reevaluate my criticism of the league's goal of equal time for men's and women's teams? Nah. The Big Ten Network exists only because of the revenue and ratings generated by football and men's basketball. Because of that, the BTN will devote hundreds of hours to broadcasting football games and men's basketball games. As with Title IX, however facially neutral or well-intentioned the policy, if the BTN includes football and men's hoops in the equation, men's non-revenue sports will be the big losers in this arrangement. The best arrangement would be to take football and men's hoops out of the equation and apply gender equity to the non-revenue sports. If they don't (and my guess is that they won't), the IU women's soccer team, e.g., likely will get lots more airtime than the men's soccer team. That doesn't seem right, but I suppose it is a side-effect of the fiction that big time college sports are nothing more than an extracurricular activity.
Also on the BTN front: here's a link to a Q&A that appeared in Multichannel News, some sort of a niche cable industry publication. Melinda Witmer, Senior VP and Chief Programming Officer of Time Warner Cable, addresses a variety of issues, but the discussion turns to the BTN and about halfway down.
MCN: At this point, as you’re looking at both of those networks, do you see them as being sports-tiered networks in terms of their value? You mentioned that you’re not getting complaints with the NFL Network, but the Big Ten’s a little different. You have systems that represent markets where Big Ten schools are and there might be a great desire among those subscribers [to be able to watch] that network.
BW: Well, I think that, again, it’s a real assessment as to what we think the value is that the content brings to our consumers. There’s no question that there are fans of the NFL, hockey, the Big Ten, tennis — there are fans of every sport you can find.
I think striking the right balance is the question. Of course, we’re in the business of providing video content, so the most compelling offering is going to be able to offer our consumers everything they could possibly want. If bandwidth were unlimited, we would do that at the right price, and let the right people pay for it that want to pay for it. So I think that — particularly for sports programming where they’re looking for high payoff — we have to be responsible about figuring out who’s going to pay for that. And I don’t think that that burden should be borne by the breadth of
customers. Particularly, the Big Ten is an interesting one only because they’ve kind of cast themselves in a hybrid of a regional sports network and a national service. But you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a regional sports network with an eight-state core market. But we’re still evaluating, and we have an open door with respect to every programmer who wants to do business we us, so we’re talking to them and evaluating, and trying to determine where our customer sets are.
That is, it seems, the problem with the way the media has covered these negotiations. There just isn't any precedent for a network like the BTN. In the eight state region, the BTN programming is highly sought-after, along the lines of a regional sports network. Outside the BTN, it's essentially a niche channel for former midwesterners, Big Ten alumni, and irredeemable sports junkies (I live in Indiana, but I would watch games on the SEC Network if it existed. I have a problem). Ms. Witmer notes that Time Warner didn't hear much from NFL fans about the NFL Network. Of course, the NFLN began broadcasting games only last November. Most NFL teams haven't yet been on the NLFN, and it seems unlikely that any of the 32 NFL teams will be on the NFLN more than once or twice a season. For Big Ten fans accustomed to watching every single football or basketball team, losing 1/3 of the schedule might change the equation, particularly when any cable subscriber with a clear view of the southern sky has an alternative.