Friday, September 14, 2007

Michigan-App St finally get their due

The second week of the college football season received about as much coverage in the Chicago Tribune as the first week, but it was spread out a little differently. Teddy Greenstein had a report from the Michigan-Oregon game, and the AP story from the Appalachian St-Lenoir-Rhyne game was published. Combined, the two reports took half a page, which means Michigan and App St got about four times as much coverage in the Trib the week after their meeting than they did on the week they played each other.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Speaking Engagement

For those of you in the area, I will be speaking at the Purdue Club of Chicago event on Tuesday, September 11th at 7PM at Tommy Nevin's at 3032 English Rows in Naperville.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Chicago Tribune abandons college football

I opened my Sunday Chicago Tribune looking forward to catching up on the college football action around the country and was shocked to see that the Tribune is no longer covering it in any significant way.

You used to be able to read up on the action around the Big Ten and in the top 25. No more.

You used to be able to see news and notes from around the country. No more.

What we got on Sunday was a quarter of a page on the Northwestern game, a quarter of a page on the Illinois game, a quarter of a page on the Northern Illinois game, which was played in Chicago, a page and a half on the game at the University of Chicago at South Bend, better known to most people as Notre Dame, and a page of stats and box scores. That's it.

Oh, and we got three column inches on the Appalachian St-Michigan game. That was a quickie column from Teddy Greenstein, the Trib's excellent college football writer, suggesting it was time for Lloyd Carr to retire. No game story. No quotes. Not even a wrapup from the wire on one of the biggest upsets in recent history in the sport.

That's pretty disappointing, but I suspect it's a sign of the times. With more people going to the internet to get information, papers are getting more provincial. The Trib probably feels no need to cover schools outside the state because those fans are likely getting their info in other places. I do that too, but I'm old school enough that I still open the paper first. Now, I have no reason to rush.

Big Ten Network Review

As a Big Ten guy (Purdue '85), I was excited about the idea of a Big Ten Network. That idea came to life on August 30th when the network hit the air waves.

It began with a football preview edition of Big Ten Tonight hosted by the network's primary on-air talent, Dave Revsine, formerly of ESPN and a Northwestern grad. Revsine was joined by network analysts Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, and former Illinois running back Howard Griffith.

The show went off without too many glitches. The worst was a technical problem during the Iowa preview, which got cut short. Revsine does a great job, of course. DiNardo adds good information, but watching him takes a little getting used to. He sits slumped and a little sideways and I find myself leaning in my chair a little when he's on. I think Griffith is new to TV because he's somewhat unpolished, but he does a decent job bringing the player's perspective. One thing he had trouble with was referring to his Illini in the first person, which is something I struggle with myself at times. 40-year habits are hard to break.

The network's biggest glitch occurred around 6 AM the next morning when it went off the air for just over an hour.

Friday night saw the debut of the Big Ten Tailgate Show, where they take a look at the games coming up the next day from the on-campus point of view. It's hosted by Mike Hall. At the open of the show, he went down the schedule of the next day's games and referred to Purdue as "Purdon't." I'm sure he thought that was clever, but Purdue people don't generally think of that as a term of endearment. Then, he threw it out to Wayne Larrivee and Chris Martin for a report from the "University of Indiana." It's not U of I, but Indiana University. So, he managed to offend the fans of 18% of the schools that pay his salary in his first minute on the air. Nice start.

The show also featured two correspondents who each spent time at one of the schools and took in some of the game week atmosphere. One attended Penn St and introduced us to things like the Creamery and the Friday night pep rally. The other was at Michigan and did things like work in the food service line and hang out with the band. They had reports interspersed within the show and sometimes talked with each other and Hall. The individual reports seemed OK, but there wasn't a lot of chemistry among them when they were on together. It could have been due to some technical trouble. It looked like the remote guys had problems hearing at times.

Game day was a big winner for the Big Ten Network because it had one of the biggest upsets in recent years, and it was the main game on the network at the time. Appalachian St stunned Michigan 34-32 in Ann Arbor in a game that may not have been on a TV screen at all if not for the BTN. (Note that all games have some sort of "television" coverage to accommodate replay, but some of those broadcasts are internet-based and not over the air).

For me, it meant that I got to watch the game, but I couldn't see it live. I was covering the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game (speaking of disastrous home openers) that day, but when I came home, I watched the replay. The crew on that game was Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis, who did a pretty good job. They were as surprised as anyone else, but never disrespected or patronized ASU.

There were a couple of funny lines from that broadcast. During the open, we had the requisite shot of Michigan entering the stadium and Brennaman was talking about how Michigan had dreams of a National Championship. Those would be quashed four hours later. Late in the game, Davis noted that this was only the second game he and Brennaman had worked together, and that the first was the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl. Brennaman then said, "I bet Jim Tressel will be really glad to see us next week." They'll be doing the Akron-Ohio St game.

Also, Big Ten fans got to watch Tressel take on his old school, which certainly wouldn't have been on outside Columbus otherwise. And Indiana fans got full coverage of not only the Hoosiers' game with Indiana St, but all of the remembrances of their late coach, Terry Hoeppner.

There have been a few other minor things, like graphics misidentifying Oregon State as the Ducks (which would not be forgivable if it were the Pac 10 Network) and Michigan tackle Jake Long as a wide receiver. I also notice that sometimes the graphics on my TV are cut off on the left side.

And then there is the whole issue of distribution. DirecTV has it (and that's how I see it). Comcast does not, and it has a big chunk of the cable rights in Big Ten country. Negotiations have been public and acrimonious, so it doesn't look like Comcast or Dish Network, the other major satellite service, will be coming on board anytime soon. I think it will become more pressing as basketball approaches because the network will have more compelling matchups in basketball season than it gets in football.

All in all, the opening weekend was a pretty decent start for the Network. I don't know how many problems brand new networks typically have in their first few days on the air, but the BTN didn't seem to have too many and nothing that isn't fixable. I think the network is going to end up being a great thing for Big Ten fans, especially when they all have access to it.