Kirk Wessler: Big Ten boss should point at himself
This guy recently barnstormed the Midwest, projecting himself as if riding a white horse and slaying the evil Cable Empire while he championed your inalienable rights to watch Big Ten sports.
Such a crock.
The guy’s name is Jim Delany. He’s commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, and when you’re finished cutting through all his baloney, it’s clear he’s on a crusade to screw you.
On Thursday, Delany and his minions will launch the Big Ten Network. The idea for a conference network actually is a good one. Among the benefits will be exposure of sports other than football and basketball. Nothing wrong with that.
Everything is wrong with the rest of the picture.
Start with football and basketball, the sports without which there would be no way to start or sustain the network. Games that fans used to be able to watch on other stations and networks, even free ones, have been gobbled by BTN. That would be fine, if you could get BTN. But four days before its debut, six days before the first games kick off, most people in the eight states that are home to Big Ten schools can’t.
Delany would like you to believe this is all the fault of those nasty cable companies and satellite outfits. That’s convenient. Everybody hates their cable provider and all the ever-escalating fees for service.
But please don’t follow where he points.
The blame belongs on Delany.
Everybody who wants BTN could have it from Day One. All Delany has to do is allow the cable companies in the eight-state Big Ten region to make the network part of a sports package, where sports fans pay a few extra dollars per month to access specialty networks like those run by the NFL and the NBA.
But he won’t go there.
Instead, Delany demands BTN be offered at least on extended basic cable, where every subscriber has to pay for the service. That way, the Big Ten makes hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than tens of millions.
The commish wants you to believe that if his network is on basic cable, you won’t have to pay extra for it. In other words, you’ll get it for free. Like your cable company isn’t going to pass along the $1.10 per month — or whatever marginally lesser fee might be negotiated — to you and all your connected friends and neighbors who would rather watch a Big XII or SEC game, or even the 203rd replay of "The Godfather’’ saga.
To date, some small cable companies in the Big Ten region have caved in to Delany’s extortion. Insight, which services most of the Peoria metro area, has not. Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable provider and the one that will replace Insight here in a few months, has not. Neither has Time Warner, No. 2 nationally and another dominant player in Big Ten country.
So, with time running out to strike deals before the first football games, Delany mounted his crusade. He advised fans that if they want to see BTN programming, they should cut their cables and sign up with DirecTV, the satellite company that jumped on board with the Big Ten very quickly and offers the network on its basic package.
Wonder why DirecTV.
You hear "Big Ten Network," and it’s easy to presume the league runs the whole show. Wrong. The Big Ten owns a 51 percent stake in the network. The other 49 percent is owned by Fox Cable Networks. And who owns DirecTV?
Look, I’m not fond of the cable outfits. And the satellite companies are just as bad, selling dish after dish without fully informing buyers of all the blackout restrictions that apply to certain premium packages and events.
But the fact is, they’re ready and willing to sell BTN to every person who wants it. The cost likely would be in the neighborhood of $6 to $8 a month. Those who don’t want it wouldn’t get it and wouldn’t have to pay for it.
That’s not good enough for Delany, who has the nerve to accuse the cable companies, Comcast in particular, of "confusing the public" and "refusing to negotiate."
I don’t blame him for doing what he thinks is best for the Big Ten. That’s his job, and he has been very good at it.
But you have to remember what that means. What’s good for the Big Ten is not always good for the rest of the college sports world. It’s not necessarily good for you, even if you’re a Big Ten fan. It’s certainly not good for people who never watch sports on television.
Delany’s loyalty is, first and foremost, to the 11 schools that employ him to make them rich.
You mean nothing.
Your money means everything, and he’ll say or do just about anything to get his hands on it.
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3216 or e-mailto firstname.lastname@example.org.