There's little worse than trying to tune into your favorite college basketball (or hockey) team's game only to find another game is still not finished on the same network. It's even worse when the game before your school's goes to overtime and you're stuck hitting refresh on your phone to try and find out what's happening or struggling to authenticate a legit online option.
Even if the game's being simulcast on the Internet, you're at the mercy of hoping you're somewhere with reliable enough WiFi or a strong enough data signal (or that you have enough data remaining that month) that it's a viable alternative. And if you're into following the game on social media, or say the comment section of your favorite team's blog, you're already behind the eight ball as the added delay in online stream will mean you're constantly being spoiled.
This happened this past Wednesday night when a seemingly innocuous on paper Rutgers-Illinois game went three overtimes, prohibiting some fans from being able to see Maryland-Nebraska uninterrupted until after the under-four timeout in the first half with the score 27-27.
Maryland fans on Twitter were predictably not thrilled:
@BigTenNetwork This is like going to Walmart and they have 20 checkout lanes and 1 damn cashier! Put the Maryland game on another channel!!— Chris Boardwine (@Chris_Boardwine) February 4, 2016
@BigTenNetwork The network showed both games on a spit screen.. Why not use the alternate channel? Probably some corporate contract excuse— Clayton Bramble (@ClaytonBramble) February 4, 2016
The refrain's familiar, and the logic is certainly there: The Big Ten Network has several overflow channels on almost all of the cable and satellite providers they have contractual arrangements with. During football season, it's completely the norm when these kind of scenarios play out to either switch to regional coverage (e.g. flex the Illinois-Rutgers game to an overflow destination) and/or air Maryland-Nebraska on the overflow channels for everyone else until the former is finally finished.
So why not during college basketball season?
"During football season, we have access to an extra control room that's in a facility in Houston that enables us to show another game on that feed," the president of the Big Ten Network Mark Silverman told SB Nation. "That doesn't exist during basketball and hockey season because there's all these other networks showing basketball and hockey. We don't have that available to us. So we can't show a second game while another game's going on once football season ends."
In what's not really even a question of resources and more demand for a greater number of networks renting these broadcast facilities than there are supply, BTN and other conference and regional networks' hands are tied.
"We have, during the football season, the ability to have multiple games on. And what distributors do is, rather than have that channel on your system for the games and then take it away, most of them leave it on all year. So you'll see the same thing on twice, even though we only have one channel," Silverman explained.
"People see two channels on their system and they're like, 'Wait a second, why can't you put one game on one way...' We don't have that ability to get that game distributed. It's not available to us," Silverman reiterated. "So what we do instead is, it's free, it's on [the network's streaming companion website/app, 'BTN2Go'], [we] try to make it broadly available, promote it non-stop, and we try to go back-and-forth [in-game]. We try and show split screens, we try and show [the action from the other game] during timeouts."
Though it surely won't quell frustrated fans who don't want to have to fire up an online stream or in some specific cases might not have BTN2Go access (or another conference network's equivalent) for a variety of reasons, networks like the Big Ten are more than cognizant of the frustration these sorts of situation cause all the fans involved.
In the Big Ten Network's specific case, one tactic they took was not to take a commercial break from the second the Maryland game started until Illinois-Rutgers was finished. Whenever there was a timeout, the network immediately cut over to the other game.
And though some fans on social media were quick to clamor for a permanent split screen situation not unlike NFL RedZone showing both games at once, the networks have to be mindful of watering down the viewing experience on the whole.
"We cut back and forth. We did a split screen for a while. We talked about doing a split screen and just leaving it a split screen -- then you tick off everybody. So decided to briefly do a split screen, briefly go full screen when we could," Silverman added.
There aren't any real winners in situations like this, but the networks are more than aware of the hassle it causes. While turning to an online simulcast is seldom, if ever, the best experience for even the most tech-savvy power user and/or in the most streaming device heavy living rooms, that technology should continue to progress in the future as well.
With the increase in smart TVs and more and more of these networks extending their foot prints to devices like Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire, the temporary pain should become more and more like that of simply changing the channel like fans are able to do for networks like ESPN and Fox Sports 1, who have multiple actual channels to work with.
In the meantime, there'll be some headaches. The various conferences involved do the best they can scheduling wise to try and appease their broadcast partners, but strange things sometimes play out anyways. The networks are well aware if nothing else and while seldom much consolation to those impacted at the time, mindful of doing everything they can to serve all of the fans having to endure it.