Big Ten Channel hammers out details

The conference signed two contracts that will put hundreds of athletic events on TV.

Maisha Downey

By this time next year University students will have the opportunity to watch more Gopher games from the comfort of their own sofas.

Earlier this summer, The Big Ten Conference signed two separate contracts allowing more collegiate sporting events to be televised nationally.

The first contract, signed with ABC/ESPN, will mean up to 41 Big Ten football games will be televised between the two stations starting this season.

Close to 60 men’s basketball games and 100 women’s basketball and volleyball events will be aired on either ESPN or ESPN2, according to Scott Chipman, assistant commissioner of communications for The Big Ten.

The second contract, a partnership with Fox Cable Networks, helped create The Big Ten Channel, which will showcase a variety of sporting events and original programming produced by the conference’s 11 institutions.

Scheduled to launch in August 2007, The Big Ten Channel will be available to all national carriers and distributors.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he is in favor of the new channel.

“This is a very healthy thing for both The Big Ten and the University,” he said. “Minnesota is guaranteed exposure for both its football and basketball teams.”

The channel will air at least 35 football games, 105 regular-season men’s basketball games, 55 regular-season women’s basketball games and Big Ten championships and tournaments. In addition, 170 Olympic sporting events will be featured, Chipman said.

Maturi declined to comment on the costs of the channel and said it’s too early in the process to know for certain how much it will cost.

Each school will also have 60 hours of airtime to showcase academic achievements. The University’s president and provost offices are currently meeting to discuss how that time will be used.

Some students, such as education grad student Liz Sheppard, said education coverage deserves the air time.

“I don’t know if I’d watch the sports, but maybe the Olympics,” she said. “I would definitely watch if it were more than just sports.”

The material that will air in the summer months is still in question. Since this is typically the off-season for college sports, the channel is tentatively planning to dig into the conference’s library of past sporting events.

Fox has already signed agreements with the channel’s first affiliate, DirecTV, to include the station in its Total Choice package.

It is still unknown whether the channel will be available through Comcast, Chipman said.

“The main challenge for the channel right now is working out cable agreements, not just for the Midwest, but nationally,” Maturi said.

Chase Fiebig, a nutrition science sophomore, said if it cost extra to get The Big Ten Channel, he and his friends would probably pool their money together to order it.

“I’d probably watch it more than any other sports channel,” Fiebig said.

First-year engineering student Josh Joost said the new channel is a good idea. He would enjoy watching it, he said, if he has access.

“I’d like to have it in the dorms so if you couldn’t go to the games, you could watch them at home,” Joost said.