Wine: Big Ten Network and the Homecoming Game

Sept. 24, 2007

IOWA CITY – Iowa’s homecoming game with Indiana Saturday will be on television, which is not unusual. In fact, this will be the 70th straight Hawkeye football game to be telecast.

Iowa games have generally been televised regionally, semi-nationally, or nationally. If you live in the Midwest you’ve been able to watch virtually all those games, and watch them free.

That took a sudden turn this year with the creation of the Big Ten Network. Iowa has already had one game (Syracuse) televised by the BTN. Indiana will be the second.

There’s a little problem here because only some Hawkeye fans can access the BTN, which is a joint venture between the Big Ten Conference and Fox Cable Networks. The BTN is being offered to cable and satellite providers nationwide, but few major cable companies have signed on.

One that hasn’t is Mediacom, the biggest cable operator in Iowa. The BTN and Mediacom are at odds. The BTN wants to be included among Mediacom’s basic channels. Mediacom wants to put the BTN on its sports tier, making it a premium channel for which the viewer would pay extra.

Seems like this disagreement has been going on forever, but it’s only been a month or so. The two sides are talking. That’s about all we know.

If you’re not at Kinnick Stadium Saturday, the only way to watch the game is get a dish and subscribe to DirecTV or the Dish Network, or go to a sports bar, or have a smaller cable provider that offers the BTN. More than 60 locally-owned and locally-operated cable television systems in the state offer BTN as part of their basic package.

For years, fans have been happy with TV coverage of Big Ten games, so why did the conference change things? All I can tell you is what’s printed in the Big Ten Football Media Guide, which says the conference wanted to create a “national network devoted to athletic and academic programs.”

It goes on to say there will be considerable coverage of women’s sports and Olympic (non-revenue) sports, along with 35 football games and 105 men’s basketball games each season. The BTN will also air coaches shows and “classic” games.

It is fair to say the Big Ten is the nation’s most prestigious conference, and it has put its prestige on the line by creating its own television network. The BTN is off to an acceptable start from a distribution perspective. More than 30 million homes nationwide will be able to watch Iowa’s game Saturday in addition to Michigan’s game at Northwestern and Penn State’s game at Illinois.

But fans are upset and particularly those in the eight state “footprint” of the Big Ten where most of the major cable television players are still on the sidelines. But ESPN was not an overnight success. Indeed, it was foundering badly when ABC bought America’s first all-sports channel. And look at it now.

The BTN might be on solid footing before long. It had better be, with Iowa’s first 11 men’s basketball games scheduled to be aired by the BTN. I believe it’s a long shot, but let’s be ultra-optimistic and believe the BTN and Mediacom will strike a deal before this Saturday.

But for the moment fans are grumbling and the Big Ten’s image has taken a hit. The league’s fledging network is off to a rocky start, at best.


With one-third of the season played, the moment of truth has arrived for the Iowa football team. If it wants to make something of its season, it must beat Indiana on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes are 2-2 after losing consecutive games on the road, both by narrow margins. They would be unbeaten had they protected fourth-quarter leads at Iowa State and Wisconsin. But they failed to do so, and come back to Kinnick Stadium with a .500 record.

Indiana, which upset Iowa last season, is a formidable foe. The Hoosiers have a high-powered offense and a 3-1 record. Four turnovers contributed mightily to their loss at Illinois last week, but Iowa cannot rely on that to happen again.

Kellen Lewis is the most versatile quarterback in the Big Ten. He presents problems as both a runner and passer. James Hardy, a big wide receiver, has been a load for Iowa’s secondary the past two seasons.

The Hoosiers put points on the board, meaning Iowa will have to score touchdowns to win this game. And that’s been a problem for the Hawkeyes, who are last in most Big Ten offensive statistics, including the one that matters most – points per game.

Iowa’s offense is not only young, it is now crippled with injuries. With a lot of freshmen thrust into action at Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes put forth a sterling performance and almost left Camp Randall Stadium with a victory.

Coach Kirk Ferentz has made it clear he is not content with close games and moral victories. He wants his team to win. Let’s hope he gets his wish Saturday.

Click HERE for more the Big Ten Network web site.