NFL Network vs. Big Ten Network in the dead zone

July 3, 2009

Slow doesn’t begin to describe this time of year for college athletics and the NFL. Having covered both for a significant period of time, I can tell you everyone associated with the NFL is on vacation during the July 4 holiday. Likewise, college officials usually are as far from campus as possible.

It’s only reasonable to expect two networks exclusively televising pro football or college athletics to struggle for relevant programming this time of year. To examine this, I went through the entire television schedule of both the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network beginning with Sunday, June 28 and ending on July 4. Here are my observations.

Both networks repeat programming the same way Clear Channel recycles songs and news stories on the radio. The Big Ten Network repeated programming 45 times during this week. That includes four telecasts of “Big Ten Legends: Lloyd Carr” and four airings of the 2009 Big Ten men’s tennis tournament. The NFL Network is much, much worse. It replayed its programming 90 times during the seven-day period.

The Big Ten Network is required to show campus programming, and this is the perfect time of year to do so. There were three airings of Purdue’s “Boiler Bytes,” and Northwestern’s “Student Concerto Competition.” Iowa varied its campus programming with shows on vitality, sustainability and “Getting Ready for the Boom.” I presume that’s a euphemism for the alarm clock to wake us from that programming, but I digress.

The Big Ten Network has done a good job of trying to shake up its replays by instituting campus-specific programming on different days. There have been (and will be again on July 12) Iowa days when the network airs past games in which Iowa was victorious.

During this sample week, the Big Ten Network devoted a day for Wisconsin. The programming included a 1999 Rose Bowl victory, a big basketball win against Maryland in 2000 and the annual hockey grudge match against Minnesota. There also was campus programming on the common cold (aahh-chew), international relations (is this the fishing zone between the U.S. and Canada?) and the mind of a psychopath (Wisconsin’s own Jeffrey Dahmer?).

On July 4, the BTN will air the league’s greatest football games of 2008, plus other football-related programming. Good move. Overall, it was a decent week for the network, which slowly is building its resume as one of the better sports networks on television.

The NFL Network is the reigning repeat champion. No other network outside of Headline News repeats its programming more than the NFL Network. It’s a shame because the NFL Network has so much potential.

During the June 28-July 4 sample week, the NFL Network was fairly predictable, based on past years. Sundays are filled with 90-minute replays from four games during a 2008 weekend From noon Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday, those replays ran 16 times.

The NFL Network’s daily trademark, “Total Access,” is a one-hour news/feature show that airs every weeknight at 6 p.m. Unfortunately, it re-airs and re-airs and re-airs some more. The Monday version aired 10 times. The Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday versions aired 12 times each. That’s way too much programming time to dedicate to one 60-minute show.

The network also re-airs other programming at an alarming rate. Tuesday night, the network showed two 30-minute and one 60-minute episodes of “NFL Game of the Week.” Those shows then re-aired nine more times.

On Monday nights (and usually on the following Saturday), the NFL Network airs a “Classic Game” with its original broadcasters. Unfortunately, many of the classics go back to 2008 or 2007. Since the 1970 merger, there have been 9,061 games NFL games played — 8,680 regular season, 381 postseason.

The NFL Network did schedule a weekend dedicated to its Emmy-winning documentary series “America’s Game.” Beginning at 5 a.m. on July 4, the network will air each episode of its Super Bowl champion series, followed by its “Missing Rings” series. That’s a tremendous idea, but the network should have started it earlier in the week to expose those fans who have yet to see it.

What the NFL Network does, it does well. It just doesn’t do it enough and it is much too repetitive. When Brett Favre returns again expect nothing the network to destroy all of its programming to show his first Packers’ game, the Monday night game following his dad’s death, the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI win and last year’s Jets-Patriots Thursday night game on NFL Network.  The network did it when he retired, when he un-retired and then when he retired again.

My final Big Ten ballot

March 8, 2009

In the past week I’ve changed my mind so many times about all-Big Ten selections it has prompted a call from the Big Ten Conference. There’s about 30 players worthy of consideration for all-Big Ten honors. There’s also about eight players with whom I’d have no problem earning first-team honors.

With that in mind, and after a few preliminary ballots, here’s how I voted for the all-Big Ten teams and honor awards that will be released by the Big Ten Network on Monday.


Kalin Lucas, Michigan State; Evan Turner, Ohio State; Talor Battle, Penn State; Manny Harris, Michigan; Mike Davis, Illinois


Robbie Hummel, Purdue; JaJuan Johnson, Purdue; Jake Kelly, Iowa; Jamelle Cornely, Penn State; DeShawn Sims, Michigan


Kevin Coble, Northwestern; Craig Moore, Northwestern; Raymar Morgan, Michigan State; E’Twaun Moore, Purdue; Jason Bohannon, Wisconsin


1. Bruce Weber, Illinois; 2. Tom Izzo, Michigan State; 3. Ed DeChellis, Penn State


1. Matt Gatens, Iowa; 2. William Buford, Ohio State; 3. Delvon Roe, Michigan State


1. Talor Battle, Penn State; 2. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State; 3. Evan Turner, Ohio State

Voting for the all Big Ten team was difficult to say the least. Before voting, I compiled a list of 30 players, then condensed it into groupings. I considered about 12 players for first team, and two of the best players — Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and Michigan State’s Raymar Morgan — missed significant time with injury or illness. It wasn’t easy.

Wisconsin (no Marcus Landry or Joe Krabbenhoft, ouch), Illinois (no Chester Frazier, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale hurts) and Minnesota (Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen) were difficult because they had so many players of similar ability. Purdue (Chris Kramer) and Michigan State (Goran Suton) had players that were tough omits. Penn State (Stanley Pringle) was a toughie.

My picks are guard-heavy, and I switched multiple times between Battle, Lucas and Turner for the league’s player of the year. Ultimately, I went with Battle because I think he can do more and means more for his team than the others. That’s not a slight to Lucas or Turner, however.

Coach of the year was the easiest. Weber’s team wasn’t expected to compete for the Big Ten title after a sub-par 2007-08 season. Izzo sometimes suffers unfairly because everyone expects Michigan State to be good. The No. 3 coach selection was tough between Penn State’s Ed DeChellis and Northwestern’s Bill Carmody.

I had Buford slightly ahead of Gatens for top freshman honors until the teams met last Tuesday. Although their stats are similar, one intangible remains etched in my mind: Gatens doesn’t play with Evan Turner.

Kelly was a late jump, but if anyone thinks I’m home-towning him to second team, think again. He’s scored 19 or more points in the last six games, took over at the point without starting there all year and defends against his opponent’s best offensive player. That’s tough for anyone, particularly for a player with a broken finger and several other ailments. Plus, since he’s taken over the point, Iowa has played its best basketball all season.

BTN hires former Hawk as analyst

January 24, 2009

The Big Ten Network has picked up a former Iowa great to help call basketball games the rest of the year.

Iowa’s leading all-time scorer, Roy Marble, will serve as analyst for the Big Ten Network. He will call Iowa at Illinois in his first gig.

Marble scored 2,116 points in his Iowa career, which lasted from 1986-86. He leads second-place scorer Acie Earl by 337 points.

Networks to feature Warner, Gatens

January 22, 2009

Be ready for all Kurt Warner all the time next week on the major sports television networks.

The NFL Network is broadcasting 55 hours of live coverage from Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay. The network is airing both of Warner’s Super Bowl appearances, with his MVP effort against Tennessee as a member of the St. Louis Rams in 2000 running Monday night. The network is broadcasting New England’s upset of St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI on Tuesday.

If you need a Warner fix before the big one, here’s an NFL Network video of an interview featuring the Cedar Rapids native with former teammate and now network analyst Marshall Faulk.

The Big Ten Network will air a feature on Iowa freshman Matt Gatens, son of former Hawkeye Mike Gatens, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday as part of its Big Ten Tip-Off Show. Matt Gatens, an Iowa City native, leads Iowa in scoring at 10.9 points a game. The show leads into Iowa’s road game at Penn State, which begins at 5 p.m.

BTN to feature Iowa’s Gatens

January 21, 2009


‘Big Ten Tip-Off Show’ Explores Gatens’ Hawkeye Roots

There was never any doubt that Iowa freshman guard Matt Gatens would become a Hawkeye. He grew up in Iowa City as the son of a former Iowa basketball letterman and former Iowa cheerleader and the brother of two former Iowa student-athletes.  Gatens verbally committed to the Iowa program while in the ninth grade.  Now, Gatens leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and the Big Ten in three-point shooting. At 5:30 PM ET on Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten Tip-Off Show will air a feature on Gatens and his Hawkeye DNA.  The feature immediately precedes Iowa’s road game at Penn State. Tom Hamilton and Greg Kelser will have the call.

Iowa FB, hoops to appear on BTN’s Greatest Games

December 18, 2008

    The Big Ten Network routinely airs some of the Big Ten’s greatest games (read greatest victories against other conferences or really good in-conference games). Iowa will take part in a few of those in coming months.
   On Dec. 30, the BTN will re-air the 2005 Capital One Bowl featuring Iowa and Louisiana State, ending with a 30-25 Iowa win. The 3-hour telecast airs at 10 p.m.
   Iowa’s 1987 NCAA Sweet 16 double-overtime victory over Oklahoma will air on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. Feb. 24. Iowa’s Kevin Gamble hit a shot from the top of the key with one second left to lift the Hawkeyes to the Elite Eight in Seattle.
   The network will air the 2004 double-overtime Iowa win at Indiana. Jeff Horner’s basket from the lane with two seconds left in the second overtime provided Iowa’s winning margin over the Hoosiers. That game re-airs at 7 p.m. Feb. 3.
   The network also will re-air Iowa’s 75-74 overtime loss in 2005 at Northwestern at 10 a.m. Feb. 28.

BTN to Iowa: ‘I can’t quit you’

September 15, 2008

OK, probably a poor quote in light that we’re talking about football not cowboys. But even as Iowa switches networks this week with its game at Pittsburgh, the Big Ten Network will re-air two of Iowa’s greatest victories in recent memory.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday, the BTN will show the 2005 Capital One Bowl. We all know what happens, but I’m sure Iowa fans aren’t tired of seeing Drew Tate to Warren Holloway on the game’s final play to beat LSU. The network will re-air the game at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The BTN will show last week’s Iowa-Iowa State (I know, it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a great victory, but it’s a win) several times beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday (concurrently with Kirk Ferentz’s radio show for you diehards). It will show it again at 3 a.m. and noon Friday.

Iowa begins the first of at least two games on the ESPN family of networks this week. ESPN2 will televise the Iowa-Pittsburgh game with Pam Ward and Ray Bentley calling it. Either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic will air Iowa’s homecoming game against Northwestern on Sept. 27, according to Iowa’s SID office.

Right now the BTN has plans to air 19 Iowa men’s basketball games, including the Iowa-Iowa State game.

So as Iowa football and the BTN enjoy a two-week sabbatical, don’t worry. There’s no quit from either side.

“Our long national nightmare is over”

August 28, 2008

In Watergate’s wake, President Gerald Ford once said in the somber moments following former President Richard Nixon’s resignation: “Our long national nightmare is over.”

I echoed those same words moments after the official press release popped up in my inbox. After more than a year of asking Mediacom, BTN and Iowa officials (plus a few fans, bar owners and satellite operators) the same questions about their impasse, the companies reached an agreement. Iowa’s BTN games finally will appear on Mediacom. Fans will watch them. Move on, as the liberals say.

Whew! No more questions about negotiations. The aggravation and wrath (or joy and ecstasy) of Iowa fans now will be saved for televisions in family rooms, not e-mails directed at sports reporters. In a few days, when everybody knows to which channel the Big Ten Network will appear on their cable lineup, I won’t hear a peep. Like our federal government, I’m the wrong person to dispense advice on how to spend people’s money. When it comes to TV choices in print, I’d like to stick to that statement.

Predictably, Iowa officials are thrilled. They caught the most junk from fans last year. I’m convinced the impasse hurt Todd Lickliter’s first year as basketball coach. Most of the games started at 8 p.m., so out-of-Corridor families didn’t come. Fans couldn’t watch them on TV because they had Mediacom and not the Big Ten Network. Fans didn’t build any familiarity with Lickliter or the players. They struggled on the court so there was apathy. People quit caring. Not exactly the best combination for a first-year coach.

“The plan for the Big Ten Network from its inception was to offer more access to more fans,” Lickliter said in a statement. “The agreement with Mediacom helps that vision become a reality for Hawkeye fans.”

Athletics Director Gary Barta shared in joy, saying, “This is a great day for the Hawkeyes.”

Iowa will make more money from this deal and the others the network signed this week. But right now, it’s like a new lease on life.

For Iowa and, in some ways, for me.

BTN is still coming to your city

August 27, 2008

All right, I know Mediacom subscribers/Iowa fans have started freaking out that a deal is falling through between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom. The companies have two minor hang-ups they’re trying to resolve dealing with digital on-demand technology and location. All of Mediacom’s Iowa franchises will have the BTN on its family tier, while the companies are discussing Mediacom’s out-of-Iowa franchises.

Lawyers for both companies still are vetting the details. It could be Thursday when the deal gets finalized, and Mediacom will show Iowa’s game this Saturday against Maine. With the BTN finalizing deals with Time-Warner and Charter (plus rumors that Cox isn’t too far behind) already this week, this one won’t linger much longer.

Mediacom’s Iowa fans finally win

August 23, 2008

For those of you who held out hope that Mediacom would pick up the Big Ten Network, your faith has been rewarded. Mediacom will pick up the Big Ten Network next week just in time for Iowa’s opener against Maine. A specific date for implementation is not determined.

There was no way either business (yes, it’s a business transaction) was going to let another season of Iowa football go down without the majority of Hawkeye fans watching the games. Neither Mediacom nor the Big Ten Network liked angering fans in the Hawkeye state but both had to stand firm with their demands. I don’t think many Iowa fans were in the mood for another year of point-counterpoint after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse wreaked havoc on the state in May and June.

When Comcast agreed to terms with the BTN in June, the wheels were in motion for Mediacom to pick it up. There are still a few matters to be addressed, such as will Mediacom’s non-Iowa franchises carry the network, will Mediacom’s digital customers receive more than just one game, etc. But the deal means Mediacom’s 400,000 Iowa cable customers won’t miss Iowa football and basketball games this year. It also fulfills the Big Ten’s purpose for bringing the network on board.

Leading up to Iowa’s opener against Maine, the BTN will broadcast a few preseason football specials. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the network will re-air a 90-minute practice. At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday it shows Iowa’s 30-minute season preview. At noon Friday (Aug. 29) it broadcasts the one-hour debut of “Iowa Football with Kirk Ferentz.” KCRG will re-air it at 9 p.m. Friday.

Let’s home for Mediacom subscribers the substance was worth the wait.


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