Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: November 23, 2008

BCSThe November 19th Columbus Dispatch headline, “ESPN deal for BCS a victory for viewers,” could not have been more misleading. The deal is certainly not a victory for over 100,000 households in central Ohio unable to view, for the first time, the major collegiate bowl games, including the national championship.

Some of these viewers have made the choice to stick to free television rather than get cable or satellite TV. They could afford pay TV, but opt-out. However, the Dispatch piece ignores the disenfranchisement of the most impoverished segment of this community, who cannot afford pay television.

One thing we all share in this community—no matter our status or wealth—is the sense that we are all a part of a bigger community and that we all experience the enormous pride that goes with cheering on an Ohio State victory. With this $125 million contract with ESPN, college football has successfully isolated those arguably most in need of this entertainment in their life. It means after 2011, a large swath of Columbus will be unable to watch the Buckeyes in a major bowl game. In fact, it should be noted this is the first time a major sports championship game will be unavailable to broadcast-only television audiences.

ESPN believes that everyone will have pay television by 2011, but with more channels and better quality pictures available through the digital conversion (not to mention the poor economy), I believe more people may begin to choose free over-the-air digital television.

One solution would be to have the ESPN-owned ABC broadcast network pick up the games and broadcast on their ABC affiliates. Local stations like Channel 6 could even broadcast on their second or third digital channel. ESPN’s president, George Bodenheimer, however, said the network planned to keep all of the games on ESPN and not broadcast any on local ABC stations.

Where is the sense in a decision that excludes 14 million homes in America—over 100,000 in Columbus from enjoying one of the premier sporting events in the country?

We hope everyone reconsiders their assumptions about the viewers in America and rallies in support of those who can’t afford or simply choose not to be part of our wired world.

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