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SPORTS: A greedy impasse makes radio relevant again

December 3, 2007

Of this, that and the other:

A fond childhood memory is of summertime evenings spent with my father on the screened-in back porch of our farmhouse.

While my dad enjoyed a cigar and a frosty libation after a hard day's work, we would dial in either a Cincinnati Redlegs or Chicago White Sox game on the radio. There, as the sun went down and the flickering dance of the lightning bugs became visible, we'd follow through the static the exploits of Cincy's Frank Robinson, Johnny Temple and Joe Nuxhall or Chicago's Nellie Fox, Louie Aparicio and Minnie Minoso.

Now, in my old age, it seems I've come full circle in evenings spent listening to play-by-play on the radio. Only I'm sitting in my "TV room" at home, listening to the outstanding voice and descriptive skills of my friends Don Fischer and Larry Clisby doing the Indiana University and Purdue University basketball games, respectively.

Their considerable talents notwithstanding, it's not my preference to hear them any place other than in my car, so you can guess where this is leading.

As with so many Big Ten fans, I have been left with little other choice because of the continuing impasse between the Big Ten Network and the major cable television providers.

I first wrote about the BTN and the then-impending deadlock with the cable companies-in particular, Comcast-last July. The gist of the issue: The BTN wants the cable guys to carry the network on the basic package and pass the cost along to all their customers. The cable guys have said the BTN should be part of a premium sports tier available only to those willing to pay for it.

There is an alternative: the satellite providers. As a cable customer (Insight), I've been tempted to switch, but (A) I'm reluctant to get involved in the hassle and (B) I don't feel I should be forced to capitulate to the greedy players on either side.

During football season, it didn't seem to matter much. The BTN carried a lot of C- and D-list games. Only once did I venture to a sports bar to watch a BTN game. Still, it seems odd that my friend in California can watch Big Ten contests from his living room that I have to get in my car and drive to a pub to see.

Now, though, it is basketball season, and this is Indiana. There's a pretty good player from Indianapolis-Eric Gordon, you may have heard of him-playing for the nationally ranked Hoosiers while Matt Painter has a great freshman class stocked with Indiana talent at Purdue.

Most of IU's and Purdue's early-season games, and no small number of their conference games, have been placed on the BTN.

Don't believe for a nanosecond that it's coincidence. The Big Ten is playing a trump card ... although another term for it would be emotional blackmail.

The cable companies don't engender much sympathy from anyone, but, if there's a side of the fence I've got to come down on, it's theirs. I agree that the Big Ten is asking too much to demand ESPN-like prices inflicted on all cable customers to put the BTN on basic cable. At the same time, when I'm spending $70-$80 a month for cable, it seems as if I should be able to choose what "premium" packages and channels I want instead of those dictated by the cable companies.

Also, as many have pointed out, there is something inherently wrong with teams representing state-funded universities playing in state-funded venues not having their games available on television to the publics who fund those institutions.

Don't look for legislative intervention to solve this mess. My guess is the cable guys will wait this one out until after the basketball season, when track and golf meets won't make for compelling BTN programming.

In the meantime, Fischer and Clisby, keep up the good work. I'll be listening.

Next up: IU's decision to retain Bill Lynch. I made my position clear here last week that Lynch and his staff had earned the opportunity to continue. The critics, if they really care about the future of Indiana football, would be advised to get off their duffs and fill some seats in Memorial Stadium. Otherwise, they're part of the problem, not the solution.

Finally, let the inevitable criticism of the Bowl Championship Series begin. But it shouldn't overshadow what I believe may have been the most fascinating regular season any sport has ever experienced. That's what separates college football from all others: The "regular" season is anything but regular. Those clamoring for a playoff risk diminishing that.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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