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EYE ON THE PIE: Can Big 10 show us more than sports?

May 14, 2007

There is an issue of greater importance than gay marriage, abortion or the tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan. State regulation of interior designers is a matter of such public concern that the Indiana Senate supported it by a vote of 44-5 and the House, 62-34.

Then, when we finally had the public protected from the inappropriate placement of sofas, the governor goes and vetoes the bill. Mitch, the spoilsport. Well, there is always next year.

The governor could not stop the major stupidity of the General Assembly: the temporary property tax fix that will be the basis of the next property tax crisis. That's what the "best and brightest" in Indiana do in every session. Since 1973, they have befouled our civic landscape with shortterm tax measures that have to be changed as soon as the rot becomes evident.

Therefore, let us say no more about this session of the General Assembly; let's go to another esteemed entity: the Big Ten (read 11). This money-hungry, imitative group of geniuses plans to offer us Big Ten (read 11) sporting events on cable or satellite TV. Not only would we get to watch basketball and football, but Big Ten golf, tennis, ping-pong and other events of incomparable interest. The fee could be small-possibly just a dollar a month.

However, this offering might be packaged with other services aimed at male audiences: the barbecue channel, the carburetor channel, the shaving channel, and the all-Hitlerall-the-time subset of The History Channel. Thus to get Big Ten sports might cost $5 to $7 a month. That's the pricing game cable and satellite companies play.

Yet a Big Ten channel could be something much more than sports. It could show campus theatrical productions and musical performances. It could deliver the best instruction by the best teachers in diverse subjects. It could give us an example of how television could achieve its highest goals rather than showing us only how high a few students can jump in short pants.

It sounds like the early hope for public television. But what we call "public" television has only a few good programs. Much of it has sunk to antique shows, howto demonstrations, repeats of British productions, and replays of Lawrence Welk.

It would be astounding if the presidents of the Big Ten gave evidence they recognized the academic capabilities of their institutions. But I know the academic world. At the first informal meeting to discuss the subject, someone will say, "We tried that 50 years ago and it didn't work." Another will concur, "Right, and look at how dull educational television is and how low its ratings are."

Stop. Times have changed. Many Big Ten schools have outstanding programs in communications. They should be capable of giving us TV unlike anything imagined in the 1950s.

In addition, ratings are not the issue. Commitment to public education is part of the mission for most of these schools. Do they have to be reminded that they are chartered and supported by the public? And with TiVo, sports programming can be run in popular hours and the "good" stuff in off hours for the "culture freaks."

We say we want and need a population that has college degrees. Can't we find a means of providing programming for the intended intellect and sophistication of college graduates? By giving us a diet of sports, are the Big Ten presidents telling us they have failed to produce educated adults who want to sustain the aspirations of a progressive society?



Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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