Press Coverage: College Football is Re-Defining Networking

People were so up in arms about talk of a 96-team NCAA Tournament that those running the BCS must have been cackling with delight over all the fervor. More talk about how the NCAA is ruining its basketball tournament means less talk about what really drives the bus in college athletics: football. And the powers that be in the football world sure could use the break from getting beaten up these days.

That said, all the talk about 96-teams distracted us from the reality that some conferences could end up being 96 teams by the end of all this realignment mess. The dominoes are endless, really. If the Big Ten expands and takes a team from the Big East, that conference has to find another team to duct-tape together a weakening football stable. The current issue for the Big East is how to entice all its current teams to stay, and that could involve expanding the football conference. Could the Big East be paying back the ACC from a decade ago? If the ACC gets pilfered on the south end by the SEC, that could be the case. And then there's the Pac-10, who is now looking at expanding as well.

Of course all of this has to do with one thing: TV revenue. The Pac-10 has hired CAA – the Hollywood agency – to work on its next media rights deal, and look at expanding beyond its current number of schools. Per SportsBusiness Journal (subscription):

⇥Part of CAA’s mandate will be to identify schools and markets where the conference could expand, and any Pac-10 expansion will include bigger media markets that could help give a conference-owned cable channel a bigger base, [Pac-10 Commissioner Larry] Scott said.⇥

⇥CAA is developing a business plan for such a channel. The agency also is advising the conference on strategies should it decide against launching its own channel. The conference’s current deal, with ESPN and Fox, expires after the 2011-12 school year.⇥


⇥“If I didn’t believe a channel was a viable option, I wouldn’t have made it part of CAA’s mandate,” Scott said.⇥

Ah, yes, the regional cable channel to exclusively highlight one athletic conference; it's the future of broadcasting, really. And who can blame them? The NFL did it and it worked. MLB did it and it worked for them too. Same for the NHL and NBA. Oh, and most notably in college athletics, the Big Ten Network has been gangbusters. So with all the success of niche-specific sports programming, why wouldn't the Pac-10 want its own network?

The Big Ten has laid the groundwork for more than just the Hollywood elite. Take this quote from Big East commissioner John Marinatto last week:

⇥"Why couldn't we do more with television, and have a Big East television network?"

That quote, in the Charleston Gazette, is in reference to the Big East trying to save its conference from getting pillaged by the Big Ten. "Oh, they have a TV network? Then we'll start our own TV network. Maybe we'll even start a movie theatre, too. Kids still like drive-ins, don't they?" (note: not an actual quote)

The ACC, scared of its own demise, announced this week that its spring meetings will focus primarily on contracts with ESPN and Raycom Sports that are set to expire after the 2010-11 seasons. From the Charlotte Observer:

⇥A new broadcast rights deal could be announced as soon as this week. Because the economy has plunged, however, the deal is not expected to be nearly as lucrative as the one that pays the SEC an average of $205 million per year over 15 years.⇥

⇥But after bundling its football and basketball rights, the ACC is expected to increase the revenue it receives from TV. ACC tax records from 2007-08 -- the most recent year available -- show the conference received TV rights payments totaling almost $40.6 million for football and $34.7 million for basketball.⇥


⇥That total of slightly more than $75 million accounted for 46 percent of the conference's total revenue for that fiscal year.⇥

Remember, circumstances for the SEC were a bit different, as the conference was all set to create its own network before the big existing houses -– CBS and ESPN –- backed up the truck. Would anyone even care if the ACC –- or the Big East, for that matter -– created its own network? Maybe for basketball, but even the Big Ten had its conference tournament -– save for the first day – on ESPN or CBS.

So we get all worked up about 96 teams, but in the end, we'll be left with five conferences with 20 teams apiece. At least they'll all get their own networks.

If You Could Embed Yourself In One Job As A Journalist
Last week, Chris Erskine of the L.A. Times wrote about a scrimmage he participated in with the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. Hilarity ensued:

⇥In about 20 minutes of court time, I tallied four points on two-for-three shooting, no assists and one or two boards. Ron Artest, eat your heart out.⇥

⇥Scrappy if not skilled, I chased down one loose ball, leaving a fair amount of white boy on the hardwood court. I almost nailed a rather impressive reverse layup, except my knee buckled like a confetti egg.⇥


⇥I might also have re-torn my schnitzel, the long core muscle that runs from my nasal passages to my ankles.⇥

Erskine played in the scrimmage as part of a preview for the upcoming WNBA season. He lauded the toughness of the women's league, and the Sparks specifically, before noting that the scrimmage -– he was on a team with a few 20-something former high school players -– ended in a 61-61 tie.

This leads to the question, what would the best assignment be for an entire year? Forget playing in one scrimmage with the Sparks, what if a writer spent an entire training camp, or heck, an entire year as a practice player. Stefan Fatsis had my dream embedded-journalism gig when he was a kicker for the Denver Broncos for a pre-season. So what would the best gig be ... assuming, of course, there's a book at the end of the journey?

Here's my top five, other than what Fatsis did:
• Tiger Woods' caddy. For more than just the carousing. Being with him on the course would be more fascinating than all the other stuff. Okay, fine, as fascinating.
• Train with the English national soccer team leading up to the World Cup. I would have said the Brazilian team, but my translating abilities are lacking. Besides, with John Terry, et al, the English team would make an incredible book.
• While this isn't a wish of mine, personally, it seems to be a top-five idea that Mark Titus of Club Trillion should write a book. It'd be even better if he had the idea before signing on with the team.
• Andy Hutchins offered the idea, which I applaud, of being Usain Bolt's trainer. Or assistant. Or waterboy.
• While I thought it would be fun to be embedded at ESPN to write a story about the goings on in Bristol, I'd be upset that the place has more leaks than a 40-year old dam, and I'd be on the inside, presumably with a gag-order until my stint is complete, while all the good stuff is getting funneled out to the bloggers. So, with that, I'd pick the TNT crew, focused mostly on the life and times of Charles Barkley. That's a book I'd want to read and write.

Piling on the LT Story
Last week, when everyone was piling on Lawrence Taylor for his, shall-we-say, situation with a prostitute and a pimp, Ernie Palladino shared a story from 1995 where he and Taylor almost came to blows:

⇥I said, "Same bull...t, huh LT?" At which he pointed a finger at me and said, "Watch it, you!"⇥

⇥At this point, we were about 20 yards apart, and I'd had it. My plan was to turn around, exit the other way, and go back to the press room to vent for another half-hour. But something inside me told me I had to get that damned last word in. So as I turned, I waved my hand at him.⇥


⇥"F-u-u-u... you!" I said.⇥


⇥That was my first mistake.⇥

It's a pretty fascinating exchange, even if one has to wonder how big the fish was when he originally caught it 15 years ago. There was a lot of coverage of the event back then, so this could be a fair re-telling of the events. Of course, Palladino was probably waiting for LT to screw up enough again so that he could share this tale.

So read and enjoy the story. But keep in mind that Palladino's Blogspot blog has the tagline: "The only independent Giants blog written and edited by a true journalist. The real, inside story." That seems humble ... about as humble as a guy who'd try to fight Lawrence Taylor.


This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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