It wasn't that long ago when we were lucky to get one college football game a week on TV on Saturday, and it was never at night and hardly ever a game from the then-Big Eight Conference. Times have changed, however. Today, practically every game is available somewhere on television - if not on one of the commercial networks, then on cable or perhaps on pay-per-view.
Fifty years ago, the technology was still very limited and, with only three national commercial TV networks and their local affiliates available for public viewing, most of the sports programming was provided through the networks and targeted to a national audience. Teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska had large national followings, even back then, and were seen on television quite a bit relative to the other Big Eight teams. Ironically, that may be how those teams acquired some of their national following.
As the technology evolved over the balance of the twentieth century, along with the number of television channels for public consumption, so too did the television coverage of select college football games. The major difference was, games no longer had to have just national appeal to be selected for the broadcast schedule, but could be chosen for coverage on the basis of regional and local viewing appeal, as well.
While the increase in broadcasting opportunities for college football and basketball games has proved to be a highly positive development for fans, it hasn't always been positively embraced by the schools themselves, despite the stepped up revenue stream from broadcast rights agreements. The concern by the school athletic directors - much as was the case in professional sports prior to revenue-sharing agreements - was that if a game was available on television, it would negatively impact live attendance at the game and reduce or limit the amount of money to be made on that particular sporting event.
Time and circumstances have a way of changing everything, and we have seen this at warp speed in the current day, high-tech, multimedia world and its impact on college sports. Revenue-sharing of first- and second-level television coverage contracts have greatly helped softened some of the financial and philosophical concerns of the ADs and their school administrators. But they also have come to understand that having the games on TV boosts the athletic brand and provides other public relations and reputation opportunities that, when effectively applied and leveraged, outweigh the risks of lost attendance.
When it comes right down to it, schools in the Big 12, and elsewhere, have the final say on whether their games will be televised. In recent years, most Big 12 games have been available for viewing through some form of TV access. If a game is not picked up as part of the regular programming fare of ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports Net or FX, it generally is made available on pay-per-view. Pay-per-view broadcasts are usually carried on Fox Sports or ESPN pay-per-view channels when they are not picked up on the local channel(s), but they can also be independently contracted if a game is not part of the standard weekend fare. Last year, for example, all eight of Mizzou's conference games were televised by one of the aforementioned means.
The point of this is that last week, Missouri officials took a step backward in deciding not to make the Tigers' homecoming football game with Iowa State available on television. It is unclear what the factors were that led to that decision, but one reasonable explanation would be that the MU athletic department concluded that, because Missouri would not receive any additional revenue from a third-tier pay-for-view placement, there was more revenue to be gained in putting people into the seats at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium.
I find that to be a curious determination - and a decision definitely not made with the interest of Missouri's many local fans in mind - when you consider that a capacity crowd understandably turned out for the game. This probably would have happened anyway, with or without television coverage. And it really isn't all that surprising, given that it was homecoming weekend and that Iowa State fans travel as well as any team fan base in the conference.
Although not carried on television, the Missouri-Iowa State game was streamed live online for the first time in Missouri school history. Not the ideal way to watch a football game. You would almost be as well off listening to the radio coverage of the game.
Here's something else to ponder: The Mizzou athletic department reportedly is only a few months away from introducing the Missouri Network. This will be an Internet-based sports network that will be offered free of charge to the public. According to sources at the school, the network will broadcast multiple MU sporting events, including at least one football game.
Could the online coverage of last weekend's Missouri-Iowa State game have been a test run of what fans can expect from the planned new Missouri Network?
With the realignment issue and all else that is swirling around at the moment involving Missouri, this becomes on more thing for the sports columnists and sports talk-show hosts to speculate and spew about.
For more information:
Big 12 Conference news