Monday, January 25, 1999

ESPN disregards Xavier and UC fans

Many locals won't see game

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        My buddy Vince is a big sports fan. His three sons love sports as well. But Thursday night, when the biggest winter event on the local sports calendar takes place, they won't be watching.

        Because Vince's house, like 38 percent of homes in the Tristate, doesn't have cable. Thus, no ESPN. Thus, no Xavier-UC game this year.

        “I'm ticked off about it,” Vince said. “We're in Cincinnati and we can't even watch the game. And, believe me, my kids are ticked, too.”

        Even if Vince and the boys wanted to go to a restaurant where they're showing the game, the 9:30 tipoff makes that a bad choice as well.

        “It's a school night,” he said. “So you don't want to be out till 11:30, midnight.”

        That's why it says here that it is a bad thing to put the Crosstown Shootout on cable. There's no one really to get mad at here. UC, which has rights to the game, didn't go to ESPN and ask that it be shown.

        ESPN got the game because the television contract with Conference USA allows ESPN, CBS and ABC to pick any non-conference game they want.

        UC was the only team in C-USA ranked in the preseason. So ESPN said it wanted the Xavier game and in January for rivalry week. ESPN doesn't care if Vince in Delhi sees it or not.

        “They were adamant about it,” said UC sports information director Tom Hathaway.

        UC tried to work it out so Channel 19, its local affiliate, would produce the game and ESPN would distribute it nationally and 19 would show it locally.

        ESPN nixed that as well.

        “They didn't want to set a precedent,” Hathaway said. “They took a very hard stand.”

        So Channel 19 tried to work out a deal to simulcast the game. Again, no.

        “There was really no negotiation,” WXIX General Manager Jon Lawhead said. “They basically don't care that 35 percent of the people here can't see it. They've got the game, and that's all that matters to them.”

        ESPN is not Lawhead's favorite network. Last year, he tried to get a waiver to show a UC game at 8 p.m., when ESPN was showing another C-USA game at 9:30 p.m. The contract says that another C-USA game can not be shown locally while a game is on ESPN.

        ESPN wouldn't budge. “They wanted me to cut the game off at 9:30,” Lawhead said.

        ESPN has a deal where Atlantic Coast Conference games on ESPN2 are shown on local stations.

        Next year, Xavier has the rights to the game. But it's again likely to be an ESPN game.

        “My guess is it will be,” said Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski.

        Bobinski doesn't like that any more than the people at UC do.

        “There is radio,” he said. “But the video piece is missing. That's a hard thing.”

        Xavier is in the third year of its three-year deal with WCPO (Channel 9). The Crosstown Shootout will be part of the next negotiations.

        “It's a financial issue,” said Channel 9 General Manager Bill Fee. “The schools can make more money and get wider exposure on ESPN. We'd like to have the game. It has much higher interest than a typical game.”

        There's a trend here. The Reds will go cable-only this year.

        The other thing that is upsetting is the game won't get any special treatment from ESPN. The game is part of rivalry week, but I don't get the sense that anyone at the network realizes how big the game is.

        They won't, in fact, even guarantee that the start of game will be shown. If the Wake Forest-North Carolina State game runs late and is close ESPN will stick with it.

        Nice decision. I don't care if Tim Duncan comes back to play at Wake and David Thompson returns to N.C. State, people in Cincinnati want UC-XU from the tipoff to final buzzer.

        Channel 19 and 9 always did a good job making the game an event, with a pregame show and a halftime show. With ESPN, the pregame show is Wake-N.C. State and you'll be getting a talking head updating the scores around the country at halftime.

        Channel 9 will run a pregame show from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

        As for the future, Conference USA should reserve the right to withhold the game for ESPN or get a guarantee that it is shown locally. If I'm in the C-USA office, the last school I want to mess with is UC. Because, right now, the Bearcats are the only marketable team in the whole league.

        John Fay covers radio/TV sports for The Enquirer. He can be reached at 768-8445.

        Shootout goes coast to coast
Let's get ready to ... hype Jan. 24, 1999
Shootout 'bigger than the calendar' Jan. 24, 1999
Crosstown highlights Jan. 24, 1999