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.


Alamo Bowl continues climb to prominence

April 9, 2009
Iowa quarterback Drew Tate (5) congratulates  Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (12) following Iowa's 26-24 loss in the  Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30, 2006 in San Antonio.

Iowa quarterback Drew Tate (5) congratulates Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (12) following Iowa's 26-24 loss in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30, 2006 in San Antonio, Texas. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

The Alamo Bowl annually picks fourth or fifth among the Big Ten and Big 12’s bowl-eligible teams. But some of those middle-of-the-road school have produced top-tier performances in television viewership and attendance.

In 2006, the Iowa-Texas game posted the best TV ratings of any non-BCS bowl game that season. It was a Saturday night contest and posted a bowl-record 5.99 rating for ESPN, less than 1 full point behind the Orange Bowl that season.

In 2005, the Nebraska-Michigan game also earned the top TV ratings for any non-BCS bowl game in 2005. Both years, the Alamo Bowl blasted past New Year’s Day tradition-rich bowls such as the Cotton, Capital One, Outback and Gator in TV ratings.

The Alamo Bowl now will parlay those impressive ratings into an even better time slot. The Alamo Bowl has joined the New Year’s lineup, playing its game at 7 p.m. Jan. 2, a Saturday. There are five bowl games on Jan. 1 — Outback, Gator, Capital One, Rose and Sugar. Four bowl games are scheduled for Jan. 2 — Cotton, International, Papajohns and Alamo. There’s no BCS bowl scheduled that night, which gives the Alamo the entire spotlight. Only an NFL scheduling curveball could keep the Alamo Bowl from record-breaking ratings.

“This year’s calendar has provided us an excellent primetime Saturday time slot that will allow the Valero Alamo Bowl to reach a wide audience,” said Alamo Bowl President Derrick Fox. “The January 2 date should also work well for people traveling to the game as they can celebrate Christmas at home and then spend a long weekend ringing in the New Year in San Antonio.”

Iowa has played in the bowl four times since its debut in 1993. Iowa has beaten Texas Tech twice (1996, 2001) while losing to California (1993) and Texas in 2006.

The placement appears to be a win-win for the bowl and the participatory leagues in terms of exposure. Past Big Ten schools, such as Northwestern in 2008, looked at the Alamo Bowl as slap. Now, with a primetime slot in January, the Alamo Bowl seems more equal with the Big Ten’s other slotted bowls.

Look for the bowl to push both leagues for marketable teams, both geographically (Big 12 South) and from a national television perspective (say, Wisconsin or Iowa over Northwestern or Purdue). If the bowl can get a high-profile matchup, like in 2005 or 2006, it may be hard to bump the Alamo Bowl from the New Year’s Day lineup.

NFL/NBC conspiracy with the Cutler trade?

April 4, 2009
Denver traded quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago this week. The teams meet in Denver during the preseason.

Denver traded quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago this week. The teams meet in Denver during the preseason.

I think we all can acknowledge the Chicago Bears trading for anyone with quarterback Jay Cutler’s pedigree is unprecedented. But is it possible NBC had a hand in the trade as well?

Chicago plays at Denver during the preseason’s third week. That’s known as as the game-planning preseason game where teams prepare like it’s a regular-season game. The starters play as many as three quarters and the level of play shows it.

Before the trade was finalized, the NFL announced NBC would televise the Chicago-Denver preseason game. Granted, both teams have large fan bases, but neither played in the postseason last year.  Seems kind of coincidental that the NFL would schedule them to play a preseason game, let alone ship it to a primary network.

Chicago opens the regular season at Green Bay, which also is televised by NBC as the league’s showcase prime-time match-up. The network slot was announced before the trade. Neither team made the postseason last year, and Brett Favre doesn’t play for Green Bay anymore. It seems kind of coincidental that those teams would meet on NBC when there’s plenty of better teams to choose from.

So, is it a conspiracy or coincidence?

Erin Andrews, Big Ten predictions and live blogging

March 12, 2009
ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews at a recent basketball game

ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews at a recent basketball game

Yes, ESPN2 is airing today’s Iowa-Michigan game. And that means Erin Andrews on the sidelines. Sounds like an awfully big game for the most popular sideline reporter of all-time.

Well, a 7-10 matchup in the Big Ten Tournament isn’t exactly Princeton upsetting UCLA in the NCAA tourney. But with Andrews on the sidelines, not to mention Brent Musburger and Steve Lavin in the booth, the game does have star appeal.

Mike Hlas and I will live blog the game today so check us out if your boss won’t let you watch the game on TV. Here’s the link:

As for the Big Ten tourney, I don’t really like this matchup for Iowa. I know the Hawks beat Michigan in overtime a few weeks ago, but Michigan guard Manny Harris, an all-Big Ten first-team player, played his worst game and Iowa may have played its best. I won’t put money on it, but objectively I’m saying Michigan by 11.

As for the rest of the tournament today, I’m going with Northwestern over Minnesota and Penn State over Indiana.

Friday’s predictions: Michigan State over Northwestern; Michigan upsets Illinois; Penn State beats Purdue; Wisconsin over Ohio State

Saturday’s games: Michigan State over Wisconsin; Michigan over Penn State

Sunday’s championship: Michigan over Michigan State

Warner, Cards to open season on Monday Night Football?

February 6, 2009

The NFL has mastered the off-season when it comes to public relations. The most popular sports league in North America gives fans information in morsels rather than chunks and such is the case with the 2009 NFL schedule.

So far, the league has released just one game — the Oct. 25 clash between New England and Tampa Bay — primarily because it’s held in London. The main NFL schedule isn’t released until April, usually about two weeks before the draft.

But to speculate about who will play whom is interesting, especially when it comes to the league’s opening weekend and Thanksgiving. The NFL has a few patterns in recent when it comes to their annual opening-weekend schedule. Those include:

— The Super Bowl champion opens the season at home on a Thursday on the league’s primetime, over-the-air network (now NBC).

— The initial Sunday night game involves a high-profile match-up often coinciding with a team opening a new stadium.

— ESPN airs two live games on its initial Monday night programming. The first game is a solid match-up, while the second involves two teams in the western United States because it airs at 9:15 p.m. Central.

Considering those patterns, it’s an educated guess to think that Pittsburgh will open at home on Sept. 10th. Possible opponents include San Diego, Tennessee, Baltimore or Minnesota. But I’m going to say Baltimore at Pittsburgh in an AFC title rematch.

The Sunday night match-up (also on NBC) is a slam dunk. There’s no way the league won’t schedule Dallas in the Cowboys’ new $1.1 billion football cathedral. It’s probable for Dallas to schedule a divisional opponent and you could make a case for any of them. But I’ll say N.Y. Giants at Dallas, if only because the Giants were the best regular-season team last year. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Philadelphia or Washington faces Dallas.

The first ESPN game last year pitted Minnesota at Green Bay, only because the Packers had planned to retire Brett Favre’s No. 4 jersey. Those dynamics changed when Favregate surfaced in June. This summer, the most compelling storyline will involved New England QB Tom Brady and his recovery from knee surgery. So look for ESPN to schedule the Patriots at home. I’ll say the N.Y. Jets at New England, but only if Favre returns this year. The consolation will be Atlanta at New England because Falcons QB Matt Ryan, the NFL’s reigning rookie of the year, played collegiately at Boston College.

The second ESPN game has to involve the Cardinals. It’s a no-brainer. Arizona plays two other teams on Pacific time — San Francisco and Seattle. Considering the 49ers are somewhat of an up-and-coming team playing in a sub-standard stadium, the bet is San Francisco at Arizona.

As for the Thanksgiving trifecta, two home teams are as automatic as death and taxes — Detroit (which encompasses both aspects on the field) and Dallas. The Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving game since 1934, and the Cowboys have since the 1960s. That may change past 2009, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his annual state of the NFL address last Friday.

“I understand it’s a great tradition in Detroit and in Dallas,” Goodell said. “It’s something that our owners have raised from time to time. It will not change for this season. As to whether the ownership feels the same, we will discuss it as we get later into the year. We certainly will raise it.”

Since both teams will continue their tradition for at least one more year, consider that the teams rotate networks and conference opponents annually. Last year the Lions hosted Tennessee on CBS. This year, the Lions play an NFC opponent on Fox. Although sentiment likely will be high for Arizona to play at Detroit, common sense dictates that this could be a rough match-up for several reasons. A divisional opponent is safe for television and competitiveness. The pick here is Minnesota at Detroit.

Dallas will play on CBS and either one of two AFC West opponents — San Diego or Oakland. Let’s see, a highly competitive Chargers squad featuring Texas native LaDainian Tomlinson who played collegiately in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or a sub-pair Raiders squad lacking star power. This is a lay-up: San Diego at Dallas.

Finally, the Thanksgiving night game on NFL Network usually features a compelling match-up. Sometimes that backfires, like Indianapolis at a Michael Vick-less Atlanta. Last year’s seemed a head-scratcher with Arizona at Philadelphia. That was like hitting the lottery in hindsight. This one is like predicting a needle in a stack of needles. But I’ll say Indianapolis at Baltimore because this might be one of the final match-ups pittting the best defensive player of this generation (Baltimore LB Ray Lewis) against possibly the best quarterback of this generation (Indy’s Peyton Manning). Plus, there’s always an emotional backdrop when the Colts return to Baltimore, especially when this year is the 50th anniversary of the Colts’ 1959 NFL title team. The NFL Network could ride that storyline for a week.

Voters undecided on Warner’s Hall of Fame chances

February 1, 2009

Kurt Warner has played three fewer seasons than four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw, yet has more passing yards.

Warner ranks fourth all-time in passer rating at 93.8, nearly 23 points better than Bradshaw. Warner’s completion percentage is 65.4 percent, 13.5 percent better than the Pittsburgh Steelers great.

Yet Bradshaw walked into the Hall of Fame on his first try in 1989. Warner? Well, it’s hard to tell.

Among the Super Bowl storylines this week is whether Warner, 37, has earned his position among the league’s all-time elites. The former Cedar Rapids prep has perhaps the league’s best rags-to-riches story when he went from stocking shelves at Hy-Vee to Super Bowl MVP. Now he has the redemption story to go with it. But is he Hall of Fame worthy?

The Gazette contacted several Hall of Fame voters, and many remain undecided. Dallas Morning News pro football writer Rick Gosselin called Warner a “miracle worker” in a recent online story. In an e-mail conversation with The Gazette, Gosselin wrote, “Warner is one of the nicest guys in sports.”

Gosselin, a Hall voter, wrote about Warner’s impact on bad teams and how he steered those franchises toward success. Before Warner, the Rams were tied for the NFL’s worst record of the 1990s at 45-99. The Rams finished last six times that decade. Since 2000, Arizona fashioned a 43-85 record before this year.

“If Warner can steer the Cardinals to their first championship since 1947 with a Super Bowl victory over the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, he could pave the way for his own bust in Canton,” Gosselin wrote. “Two championships with two teams — now that’s the mark of a great quarterback.”

Bob Gretz, a former Kansas City Chiefs radio sideline reporter, holds Kansas City’s Hall of Fame vote. Gretz prefers not to talk about Hall of Fame prospects before a player’s career ends.

“For all we know, Warner could play another five years and make the question moot,” Gretz said. “A victory against Pittsburgh this weekend would make it hard not to vote for Warner. Being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback provides a player with chips at the Hall of Fame table. Winning two, with two teams, some nine years apart, would be a winning hand that’s hard to beat.”

Statistically, Warner has Hall of Fame numbers. He ranks No. 4 all-time in passer rating at 93.8. He’s 38th all-time in yards with 28,591, which is ahead of Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Bradshaw, Joe Namath and Bob Griese. Warner ranks 40th in touchdown passes with 182.

Warner has passed for at least 3,400 yards in five seasons. He threw for the third-most passing yards in a season (4,830) in 1999 and the fifth-most touchdowns (41) in a season in 2001. He won the NFL’s MVP award both seasons. Now he joins Craig Morton — a two-time Super Bowl loser — as the only quarterbacks to start the Super Bowl for different teams.

Warner’s statistics are strong when compared with Bradshaw, Namath and Griese. Bradshaw, a three-time Pro Bowler, completed 51.9 percent of his passes but won two Super Bowl MVP awards. Griese completed 14 of 18 passes for 161 yards combined in the Dolphins’ two Super Bowl wins, one of which completed a perfect season. Namath engineered a shocking upset in Super Bowl III, but his stats otherwise hardly are Hall-of-Fame worthy. He threw 170 touchdowns, 220 interceptions and his passer rating is 65.5, nearly five points below Chicago’s embattled Rex Grossman (70.2).

Warner has the top two Super Bowl passing days — 414 yards against Tennessee and 365 against New England. He led the Rams past Tennessee, 23-16, with a game-winning drive and was Super Bowl MVP. Warner launched a game-tying drive against the Patriots in an eventual three-point loss. He led the Cardinals to their game-winning touchdown against Philadelphia in the final two minutes of the NFC title game.

Former teammates feel the question has been answered, even if they don’t have a vote.

“If his numbers and what he’s done isn’t enough, boy,” said former Rams teammate and likely Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. “I’m not lobbying for him. It’s just my honest opinion.”

Still, it’s not about the statistics or the postseason performance. It’s about Warner’s performance gap. Whether it was injuries or other reasons, Warner struggled from 2002 through 2006. He suffered a severe thumb injury in 2002 and was 0-7 as a starter. He started two games in 2003 before leaving for the New York Giants. He was a part-time starter for the next four seasons before claiming the Cardinals’ job last summer.

“It’s a tough call on Warner,” said Paul Domowitch, a Hall of Fame voter from the Philadelphia Daily News. “(He) could be a two-time Super Bowl winner if the Cards win. (He’s) been a two-time league MVP. But he’s really only had three statistically ‘special’ seasons — ’99, when the Rams won the Super Bowl, ’01, when they lost in the Super Bowl to the Patriots, and this season. I just don’t know if that’s enough to warrant a bust in Canton.”

“If I had to make a decision right here, right now, I’d probably say no. But I don’t have to make it for a while, and maybe I’ll feel differently in five or six or seven years, when he’s eligible.”

Podolak to return this year?

January 28, 2009

The University of Iowa, in conjunction with Learfield Communications, has suspended its search for a radio football analyst.


Long-time analyst Ed Podolak, who decided to retire after unflattering photos of him in an intoxicated state surfaced on the internet, will seek treatment for alcoholism. It’s likely he may return to the booth this fall.


Here is a news release from the University of Iowa this morning:


   Former University of Iowa football player and radio analyst Ed Podolak issued a statement today directed at all Hawkeye fans.


            “After considerable deliberation with my family and close friends, I’ve decided to seek professional treatment. Over the last few months the people closest to me in life have convinced me that treatment is in my best interest.


            “The unbelievable outpouring of concern and love from Iowa fans everywhere has also had a big impact on my decision. I’ll always be a Hawkeye, but their prayers and well wishes have made this decision much easier.


            “I continue to ask for the prayers and thoughts of all Iowa fans as I undertake this journey. My hope is that treatment will make me a better husband and father and a better person to my friends.”


            University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta had the following statement:


“I wholeheartedly support Ed in his decision to enter treatment. He will be in my thoughts and prayers. We’ll all be cheering for him. The number one priority is his health.


“I talked with Ed over the weekend, and he sounded positive and focused about his decision. He did not officially indicate he will be coming out of retirement, but in light of this recent development, I’ve spoken with Learfield and we have put the search for his replacement on hold.


“From Iowa fans everywhere, good luck, Ed!”