Clardy's Corner: Turning on the Tube

"It's easy to get a Pac-10 football fan mad. Just ask him what he thinks about the conference's TV contract." As an ESPN employee, Troy Clardy has an insider's perspective on the Pac-10's struggle to get its games before a television audience as large as possible... and he isn't too optimistic about a major improvement any time soon. Plus, as always, Troy's Pac-10 thoughts and picks.

One of the perks of working at ESPN is that if a game is being televised, I can watch it there at the office. It doesn't matter which game, and it doesn't matter which network. For someone who is following the Pac-10 from 3,000 miles away, it's a real godsend. Except when the one game you really, really want to see isn't on TV at all.

Believe it or not, there were plenty of people in the hallways at Bristol who were more than a little disappointed that Stanford-Arizona wasn't televised. Even Mel Kiper himself was flabbergasted. "How could that game not be on TV? What are they thinking?" he wondered.

Oregon fans will be asking those same questions on October 25, when their game at Arizona State won't be televised. Even Mike Bellotti wants answers. "When I first heard that the [kickoff] time was announced for 7:00, I assumed that was for television," he told The Oregonian this week. "I'm frustrated that we're going to play a 7 p.m. kick on the road and it's not televised."

It's easy to get a Pac-10 football fan mad. Just ask him what he thinks about the conference's TV contract. The only fanbase that can't complain is U$C; their last 85 games have been on the tube, a streak dating back to 2001. They've only had two games not televised since 1988.

For everyone else in the Pac-10, their team's TV appearances can be a crapshoot. And last week, Stanford fans, Arizona fans, and interested observers nationwide all lost out.

Reportedly, FSN offered to televise the game, but that would have required moving the kickoff. Stanford wasn't willing to do that because that would have interfered with Reunion Weekend festivities and changed everyone's plans with less than two weeks notice. So, last Saturday at 2:00 p.m. as scheduled, Stanford-Arizona kicked off without any cameras beaming pictures beyond the Eucalyptus Curtain.

I'm a radio guy, so you'd think I would say that zero TV equals more folks tuning in to Stanford's radio coverage. And, for my own personal selfish reasons, I hope that's true. But I'm not stupid. In this day and age in sports, television drives the bus.

So which games get to ride on the bus? First, you have to look at the Pac-10's football TV contract, which includes a primary deal with ABC/ESPN and a secondary deal with FSN. As I understand it, here's how it works: for Pac-10 games, ABC/ESPN has exclusive rights to the 12:30 p.m. broadcast window, and they get first choice of the game they want to broadcast. Once ABC/ESPN makes its selection, no other game that kicks off between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. can be televised live.

After that, FSN gets to choose which games they want for their windows at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Then, after that, schools are free to make any broadcasting arrangements they wish, provided they don't conflict with anyone else's exclusive rights. (don't you just love legalese?)

There are some weekends (like this one) where ABC/ESPN is not broadcasting a game during their 12:30 p.m. window. That opens the door for Versus to get a broadcasting window, usually at 4:00 p.m. That also opens a door for more games to be televised earlier, since FSN doesn't have exclusive rights to the 12:30 p.m. window like ABC/ESPN does. That's why this week's game at UCLA is allowed to be on TV with a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.

Given those conditions, when deciding which games get televised, think like a TV programmer and adhere to his rules. Rule Number One: go with the larger market. Rule Number Two: look at the budget. Rule Number Three: when in doubt, see Rule Number Two.

The networks generally announce their broadcast selections twelve days in advance. So, using the Rules above, let's try to predict which Pac-10 games will be televised on November 1, and by whom. That weekend, Arizona State heads to Oregon State, Oregon goes to cal, Washington State goes to Stanford, and Washington travels to U$C.

Before the season began, Oregon State decided to kickoff at 7:15 p.m. that day (probably because it's their homecoming), so we already know that game will be on FSN.

If I'm ABC/ESPN, I'm picking Washington-U$C. Even though it could be a gross mismatch on the field, I'm doing my job as a TV programmer if I give my network a matchup that features two top-15 markets. That's Rule Number One at work.

Assuming ABC/ESPN makes that choice, that means FSN has to decide between Oregon-cal and Washington State-Stanford for the 3:30p slot. And if I'm FSN, it isn't a hard decision to make at all. We're going to Berkeley.

But even if Washington State-Stanford is left in the cold by the networks, either school could still arrange with their local crew to broadcast the game on tape-delay. Initially, I was surprised that FSN Arizona didn't do this last week. Then I remembered Rule Number Two.

It costs at least $25,000 to $30,000 to produce a basic, bare-bones football game broadcast (the more involved productions you see cost much, much more than that). When games are aired on a tape-delayed basis, it's not at a good timeslot, and the ratings are often at or near zero. It's just not worth it for many of these networks to throw all that dough into a production that no one will watch.

Some have asked why ESPN can't take over as the Pac-10's exclusive broadcast partner. The simple answer there is that, strangely enough, ESPN wouldn't be able to give the Pac-10 the coverage it needs, especially for basketball.

Think about it. ESPN already has the Big East, the Big XII, the ACC, and just about everything else. Plus they signed that billion dollar deal with the SEC that begins next year. There's really nowhere for Pac-10 programming to go, and the places it could go aren't acceptable to the conference.

ESPN, as any sports fan is quick to point out, runs on Eastern time. The 11:00 p.m. Eastern SportsCenter is the network's flagship show, and if it's not starting some time in the 11:00 hour, there'd better be a really good reason for it. For Pac-10 basketball, that would probably mean Thursday tipoffs at 9 p.m. Pacific time, which is unacceptable. Or, it means Thursday games get sent to ESPN The Ocho. It's not in the Pac-10's best interests to go all-in with ESPN.

Some have suggested that the Pac-10 start its own TV network, which is something I think could be very doable. Most of the Pac-10's teams are based in large media markets, so it could work. Besides, if the Mountain West can have its own TV network (which, by many accounts, is more successful than it probably should be), why can't the Pac-10?

Regardless, no major breakthrough is going to happen anytime soon; the Pac-10's current football TV deal runs through the 2011-12 season. So until then, chances are that each week at least one Pac-10 team's fans will be looking for "That ‘70s Show" reruns instead of watching their favorite team.

Man, even in the TV contract, the Pac-10 is still U$C and the Nine Dwarfs!

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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

I can't find anyone who is legitimately surprised that Arizona found a way to lose that game last week. Doesn't say much about the Wildcats, does it?

Arizona State is in desperate, desperate trouble. How much do you want to bet that if Stanford played the Sun Devils right now, the results would be quite different?

I love LeGarrette Blount. Jeremiah Johnson is no joke. And Jeremiah Masoli is a good runner. But at some point, the Ducks will have to throw the ball, and that's where their problems begin. They just don't have anyone who can pass the ball accurately and consistently right now…

By the way, Oregon would have sealed that game much sooner if they hadn't dropped 37 interceptions…

I'm still not convinced about UCLA as a team, but I believe in their defensive tackles, Brigham Harwell and Brian Price. Can Stanford's offensive line control those two?

I'm debating whether to even have Washington State football as a topic in these Corners anymore. This is getting ridiculous…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the Big XII might actually be the best conference in the country right now. There's not much room between the top tier (Texas and Oklahoma) and the next tier (Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech) and the tier after that (Kansas, Colorado). They certainly have better offensive talent than the SEC (even Baylor has a quarterback worth watching. Baylor!). It's not far-fetched at all to suggest. Now, that might be a blasphemous thought to our friends in SEC country (and, some would argue, some folks here in Bristol)…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… that said, no one is going to escape the Big XII alive. No one is going to escape the SEC alive. Unless cal gets on the good foot (and maybe even—dare I say it?—Stanford), U$C will be dragged down by the rest of the Pac-10. All of this means that the Ohio State-Penn State winner on October 25 can probably get a head start on looking for flights to Miami in early January…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Go, Rays, go…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Jerry from parts unknown writes, among other things: "What is it going to take for Bob Bowlsby to lock Jim Harbaugh up to a long-term deal right now?"

My initial reaction to this was: My God, man, things are going well for the program right now…can't we just enjoy it and worry about the other stuff after the season?

But I'll admit that as the program becomes more successful, Harbaugh's long-term status becomes the ever-growing elephant in the room. From what I'm hearing, Harbaugh loves it at Stanford, loves what this program is becoming, and wants to be here for a long, long time.

(Is he disappointed by the crowd turnout? Yes, I think so. It was almost unsettling to hear him practically beg people to come to the game during his postgame radio interview.)

Meanwhile, if I'm Bob Bowlsby, to be honest, I wait until the end of the season before I seriously think about this. There's still a lot of football to be played, and a lot can still happen either way for the Card. And even if Bowlsby is ready to put something on the table for Harbaugh to sign right now, the upper levels of the University have to be sold on it too… and that's a more difficult task.

I don't think anything major would happen to make Harbaugh think about other opportunities this offseason. Then again, I felt the same way about Trent Johnson after hoops season ended last year, and look how that turned out. I don't think Bowlsby wants to walk that tightrope again.

Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc ) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com . The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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PAC-10 PICKS

U$C @ Washington State. Saw an article about a Florida high school game where one team won 91-0…and everyone was mad at the winning coach! Some were mad at him because his team ran up the score, even though he sat most of his starters, some at halftime (when it was 70-0), some after two or three series, and some for the entire game. Some of his own players' parents were mad at him because their kids didn't play long enough. Will Pete Carroll be facing that kind of treatment after Saturday's "game" in Pullman? Unless he calls off the dogs earlier than I think he will, I like U$C by 84.

cal @ Arizona. As I write this, I'm shocked to see cal as only a two-point favorite. Then again, I also would have put all my money on Tennessee handling UCLA, so what do I know? (Judging from my last two weeks against the spread, not much!) I like cal by 12.

Oregon State @ Washington. Something tells me I just can't pick three road teams to win this week. I just can't. I like Washington by four.

Last week: 3-0 (straight-up), 0-3 (ATS).
This year: 10-2 (straight-up), 6-6 (ATS).
Last year: 26-10 (straight-up), 20-15-1 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station KTRB (860 AM) in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.


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