BASEBALL HITS THE AIR
ESPN's coverage of college baseball is set to hit the airwaves this weekend. A Big XII showdown between Texas and Nebraska, both ranked in this week's Fab 15, gets the action underway. Friday's first pitch is set for 6:30 PM CST on ESPNU. The series will continue on ESPN Saturday afternoon at 1:00 and conclude on Sunday at 1:30, again on ESPN.
The Longhorn/Husker series marks the first of twenty-nine regular season games to be broadcast by the ESPN networks over the next two months. Sixteen of those games will be shown on ESPN or ESPN2, while the remaining thirteen will be shown on the network's month-old, college sports-only channel ESPNU. It is likely that at least a couple more games will be added soon as well.
Next week includes a pair of series, one each from the Big XII and ACC. Georgia Tech and North Carolina will meet in Chapel Hill with all three games being shown on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. The Longhorns make a second straight appearance when they host Oklahoma. The Friday game will be shown on ESPNU and the Sunday game on ESPN2. Saturday's game was picked up prior to the season by FoxSportsNet regional television.
Throughout the rest of the season, teams from seven different conferences from all around the nation will be shown. The ACC, Big West, Big XII, CUSA, Missouri Valley, Moutain West, PAC 10 will all make appearances over the next several weeks. Though ESPN showed a great deal of interest in broadcasting SEC games, that league wanted the network to pay for the rights to show the games on TV. ESPN refused and chose to look elsewhere, leaving what is likely the nation's best baseball conference with only a small slate of regional broadcasts.
In addition to the regular season telecasts, ESPNU has also announced that they will broadcast live from two regional sites and will also pick up any super regional games not shown on ESPN or ESPN2.
The opportunity for broadcasting college baseball came along for a number of reasons. The largest factors were the cancellation of the NHL season and the emergence of ESPNU. Since ESPN and ESPN2 had a large number of hockey games planned for the airwaves, many slots opened up when the NHL's negotiations fell through earlier this year.
ESPN vice president and general manager Burke Magnus terms college baseball as an "emerging sport" and lists it just behind football and basketball on the ESPNU priority list. That means good news not only this year for college basball fans but for years to come, especially if this year's schedule comes across as a success.
And if recent history is any indication, televising college baseball will certainly be a success. ESPN began airing the super regionals in 2003 and also gained the exclusive rights to the College World Series that same season. After drawing an average of about 1.1 million households for the CWS in 2003, that number rose over 7% to 1.3 million in 2004.
Though the numbers won't be that high for individual regular season games, it is an encouraging sign for baseball fans all the way around. Success now could mean more exposure in the future. And ESPN is giving it their best shot for early success, choosing some of the top teams from around the country for 2005 broadcasts.
Only three teams currently ranked in the SCS.com Fab 15 do not have a scheduled game on either ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU. Two of those, South Carolina and LSU, were not eligible once the SEC and ESPN could not reach an agreement. The only other Fab 15 squad who will not make a national TV appearance is the WAC's tenth-ranked Rice Owls.
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