Pac-12 Network: What it Means for WSU

I can't believe I doubted Larry Scott for a moment.

Earlier in the day, Jon Wilner of Mercury-News fame was reporting the Pac-12 could be partnering with Time Warner Cable for their upcoming television network. My reaction was: meh.

Now I don't have anything in particular against Time Warner. In fact, I was jumping for joy when they replaced Adelphia as the cable provider in Pullman. Not because I liked Time Warner; no, it was because I hated Adelphia's commericals with a passion few can emulate or truly understand unless you lived in Pullman circa five years ago. Time Warner was a change, and is also most certainly your standard cable company. I mean that in that they provide you TV, and in exchange your customer service experience is almost wholly dependent on luck of the draw. Sure, they'll try to make you pay a lot for your favorite channels, but the dishes do that too. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Overall, I'm pretty neutral when it comes to TWC.

But Time Warner for the Pac-12? Where's the splash? The excitement? Weren't Google and Apple in the mix? Doesn't Larry Scott always push the envelope on these things?

Well, sure enough, he did.

In an announcement I'm about 95% certain former commissioner Tom Hansen listened to on AM radio, Larry Scott outlined a plan for not one, but seven (!) networks.

How do the specifics look? I'll refer you to the excellent work of Mr. Collier from earlier today if you're interested.

To briefly summarize, the Pac-12 teamed with four different cable providers to create and begin distribution of one large national network and six regional networks -- one for each rivalry pairing within in the Pac-12. Furthermore, if you have the Pac-12 network on your TV, you'll have access to the digital side of things as well. Which means streaming video on your computer, smartphone, iPad, or Zune [I'm including the latter to appease my good friends up the road at Microsoft].

Rather than focus on what the network is, I instead want to look at what it means for WSU's future. Three things stand out to me:

1. Every football and men's basketball game on TV

Thank you, thank you, thank you. 2011-12 should be the very last sports season where Cougar fans have to deal with radio-only games in either of the major college sports. This is a welcome development for diehards like us who can't wait for games like WSU/Mississippi Valley State, just to see how the Cougar bench is developing.

With football, radio-only games were getting particularly ridiculous. There are only 12 (sometimes 13) games in a season, and with the money commanded by live sports in today's TV market I found it ridiculous that Bowling Green/Toledo would be on ESPN2 while Oregon State/WSU was relegated to nothingness (thank God that game got televised last year, by the way, or no one would have believed it happened).

As much as I love Bob Robertson and Bud Nameck, nothing beats viewing the game. And now that I'm one of thousands of Cougars who reside on the other side of the Cascades, I finally can enjoy every football and basketball game the way it was meant to be enjoyed (assuming you can't actually be at the game). As an added bonus, spring football games will also be on the network... which means the Crimson and Gray game can be viewed anywhere from Spokane to Timbuktu.

Finally, Paul Wulff can walk into a recruit's home anywhere in the nation and tell them every single game they play will be televised (maybe not on basic cable, but somewhere in the premium sports package). This is huge for recruiting, and huge for differentiating ourselves from smaller conference schools like Boise State.

Get yourselves comfortable with the Pac-12 network. Based on ESPN/Fox's early decisions, it looks like a lot of WSU games will get passed over by the big boys and fall to the conference channel. That's just how it will be until Cougar football becomes relevant again.

2. The rise of Olympic Sports

This might not mean much right now, but in the next ten years I would not be surprised if the number of sports teams fielded by WSU doubles.

A big part of Scott's plan for the future, and the Pac-12 Network, is more air time for the Pac-12's future Olympians. This isn't just pandering to the unsung heroes of college sports. In the Pac-12, it's big business.

The agreement will provide unprecedented exposure for women's sports, as well as exposure for both men's and women's programs that have been traditionally underserved on television. This includes extensive coverage of Pac 12 athletes in Olympic sports, where the Pac-12 has had more success than any other U.S. conference. Over 200 Pac-12 athletes competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and if the Pac- 12 were its own country it would have finished sixth in the total medal count.

I've heard that statistic before, and it still blew me away when I read it today. Track and Field. Swimming. Water Polo. Volleyball. Rowing. The Pac-12 is the undisputed leader among college conferences in Olympic athlete development... and what better way to fill the programming void in between football and basketball by showcasing that? The market for live sports is only getting hotter, and in Asia in particular Olympic sports are prized programming items. Larry Scott is banking on someone in Hong Kong wanting to watch WSU take on Stanford in water polo. If the money is there, it makes sense for WSU to field a team to make that happen. Hopefully, with the money and exposure of the new network(s), WSU may finally be able to finance sports many of us have wanted to see for years: Softball, men's soccer, water polo, and - if God himself might be so kind - Cougar curling. I'm actually kind of serious about that.

If Stanford can field men's and women's fencing teams, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that WSU can expand their number of sports programs. "Non-revenue" sports could become revenue sports if the market allows.

3. Intangibles

There's a lot of air time to be filled by a 24 hour network, and college football only fills 3-4 hours on 12 weeks of the year. The Pac-12 can go a number of different ways with the downtime. We talked about Olympic sports, but beyond that there is the possibility of even more. The NCAA is mulling the possibility of allowing prep games featuring the region's top recruits on the conference airwaves. While I think (and hope) they will stop a school-specific entity like the Longhorn Network from broadcasting their own recruits, I don't believe the NCAA should get in the way of a network owned and operated by an entire conference. If Bellevue-Skyline gets broadcast on Pac-12 Washington, does UW benefit from the recruiting bump any more than WSU? Doubtful.

There is also the possibility of (gasp) academics being broadcast on the Pac-12 Network. Yes, colleges teach things in addition to having men put on pads and hit each other. The Pac-12 can flaunt its academic superiority, which is good for both potential recruits as well as the viewer who is actually interested in the academics. WSU can give love to its finest programs and faculty, and snatch a lot more viewers than KWSU currently reaches.

Other ideas stretch as far as the imagination. Reality is big right now, and don't tell me you wouldn't watch a Hard Knocks-style documentary of WSU football training camp. Fringe sports. Heck, even club sports could be fair game (rugby, anyone?). Classic games. Interviews. 30 minutes of nothing but a loop of this clip over and over again? I'd watch it. The possibilites are endless, and the Pac-12 can always change its mind if they find something doesn't draw viewers. No matter what, it's going to be positive for WSU. With the regional network structure, WSU only has to share airtime with Washington, and I'd have to believe the Pac-12 office will at least try to avoid playing favorites within each pair of rivals.

It's an exciting time for WSU, and for once we'll actually get to see it. Instead of just hearing about it.

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