Barnhart Show For College Fans

Rabid college football fans live for game day but during the week clamor for an entertaining and informative discussion of their autumn passion. A worthy option airing Tuesday evenings at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. Central) on the CBS College Sports Network is "The Tony Barnhart Show".

CBS is affiliated with the Southeastern Conference and naturally has an interest in the bellcow of the SEC, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Entering the second year, the season's debut Tuesday night will delve straight into the heart of the most significant issue perpetually bubbling around college football – conference re-alignment.

Two prominent powerbrokers responsible for the recent shift will highlight the show. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and his PAC-10 counterpart Larry Scott will be the guests unveiling their thoughts about the new configuration and beyond.

Executive Producer Mike Aresco spoke with ‘BAMA Magazine/ about the show's first year, future plans and related college football subjects.

The show's initial season produced some revelations. "It confirmed there was an appetite for a good, solid, in-depth college football show that had great intellectual content as well as a lot of fun features," Aresco explained. "Also, if you work really hard at it you can get some pretty interesting guests."

Previous entertaining SEC affiliated invited personalities included Alabama's own Sela Ward, LSU's James Carville and Tennessee's David Keith.

Individuals from diverse backgrounds will again be a featured segment each week. The audience can look for a cavalcade of influential figures surrounding the game to contribute to the topical debates and in-depth analysis.

Aresco was pleased with the premiere season. "We were getting a pretty good audience. Our email trail increased enormously. People were passionate about the show and the issues. We tapped something that is only going to grow and confirmed to me the interest was there and this show could satisfy it," he said.

The choice of the host was a foregone conclusion. "I knew I wanted to do this show early on because Tony Barnhart was the guy to do it. He can be hard-hitting, incisive but he doesn't make enemies. Tony was able to deliver his hard hitting essays and receive some great feedback." he emphasized.

Always the affable moderator, Barnhart's velvet touch posing an anvil weighted question engages the guest to elicit a thoughtful reply. Known as "Mr. College Football", he was a natural selection for the issues oriented and provocative dialogue forum.

Brian Jones, the former UCLA and Texas linebacker will return as a guest contributor. He is an outspoken member of the show lending perspective and incite to the discussions. "He and Tony had terrific chemistry," Aresco added.

A new but familiar voice added to the chorus of opinions scheduled to appear will be college football's version of Andy Rooney, the venerable Beano Cook. "He has some great ideas and he's always willing to speak his mind about issues of the day," said Aresco.

Aresco, Executive Vice President/Programming for CBS Sports presides over the difficult assignment of choosing the SEC game to broadcast each week. The process usually operates with 12-day windows but as the league race develops, three six-day options are available to hedge the selection quandary.

Alabama looks to be a lock for the maximum five appearances on CBS not including the SEC Championship Game.

Under certain circumstances, a sixth is permitted. One example is if the team is slotted for the noon broadcast of a doubleheader.

Revolving SEC heavyweight tussles through the years has always kept the college football fan base mesmerized. "When I started programming SEC football the big rivalry game was Florida-Tennessee. We road that matchup for many, many years. Then for a period of time it became Florida-LSU over the last few years. Now its become Florida-Alabama," Aresco noted.

He lavishes praise on the western division of the SEC. "There might not be a six team group anywhere in the country that is as competitive."

Can a Mt. Rushmore Alabama program a flush with current Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram attract a national audience to equal or surpass the ratings supremacy of last year?

"It's been such a ride for the SEC for the last four years. You keep your fingers crossed. You knock on wood. We don't have Tebow but we still have a lot of great stories," said Aresco.

Fans around the country suffering from withdrawal may embrace a different star. "Marquee teams clearly generate higher ratings.

Part of that is the star power syndrome in TV," said the television executive with a quarter century of experience. The traditional powers can create a spike in the Nielsen numbers. "A star team can be a factor.

People watch Alabama. They watch Florida, Tennessee, Notre Dame and USC. They watch the Alabama-Auburn game," he said.

Conferences can derive an increased net worth by acquiring a perennial power. "This is not a comment on college realignment if I like it or don't like it but in terms of the value to the Big Ten of Nebraska - enormous. It's like beach front property," Aresco said. "There are only eight or ten schools that have the tradition, history and fan base."

The SEC is not rushing to the altar of change unless the dynamics warrant a move. Aresco concurs with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's notion that 12 teams can constitute a super conference. "You don't need 14 or 16 teams to be a super conference. You might actually dilute things with more teams," he cautioned.

"I like the regional rivalries in college football. I like 10 and 12 team conferences in that sense. They reflect the regional flavors and you can have inter-conference rivalries which are all the better."

Aresco espouses a philosophy of embracing the college game's unique identity forged over time. "College sports is not pro sports. It shouldn't look like pro sports. Super giant conferences worry me. I want to preserve the rivalries that have been meaningful for years. If you lose that you could be in trouble. It's a different sport. They are parallel universes. They are both great. People love college football and they love pro football. Saturday is our day and Sunday is a day for the NFL."

Tuesday is the day for those college football enthusiasts craving for discussion of contemporary issues affecting the sport, entertaining features and a panoramic perspective of the game they love to tune into CBS College Sports Network for "The Tony Barnhart Show."

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