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Friday, November 21, 2008

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/22-23

All times PST.

9-12:30 PM: College football, Yale @ Harvard (VS). You know how, when a week of college football is crap all around, "College Gameday" will sometimes go to a I-AA or lower matchup? In the early time slot, this is one of those weeks.

12:30-4 PM: College football, Michigan State @ #6 Penn State (ABC/ESPN). Oh wait, everyone hates the Big Ten.

5-8:30 PM: College football, defending Princeton-Yale titleholder #5 Texas Tech @ #4 Oklahoma (ABC). The latest Game of the Century just to come out of the Big 12. And the Title Game - which could have more impact on the BCS than any of the other Games - is still a couple weeks off.

9:30-12 PM: NBA Basketball, Celtics @ Raptors (CBC). This will probably fill our NBA quota on weekends until college football season ends, and maybe after.

12:30-2:30 PM: MLS Soccer, MLS Cup (ABC). Sadly, the main reason I've been ignoring the MLS is because their weekend games have been on eminently-ignorable Fox Soccer Channel. My soccer-crazed dad has asked me to include this paragraph: "To borrow a theme from John McCain, David Beckham is one of the biggest celebrities in the world. He is not, however the best player in MLS. That honor will go to either the Columbus Crew's brilliant Argentinian Guillermo Schelotto - who led Boca Jumiors to several Argentine Championships between 1997 and 2007 - and The New York Red Bulls Juan Pablo Angel - who comes to MLS from Columbia. So this might not be ABC's "Marquee matchup," of say, Beckham's Galaxy against Cuahtemoc Blanco's Chicago Fire. It is, though, an intriguing matchup of two hot teams with brilliant star players. I will be watching."

5:15-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Colts @ Chargers (NBC). Because the MLS Cup knocks out both of the regular doubleheader spots. At least it's a lineal title defense.

College Football Schedule: Week 13

Better late than never. As with a previous week, includes results for games already played. All times Eastern.
Top 25 Games
The Citadel@#1 *Florida1:30Gameplan
#5 *Texas Tech@#4 Oklahoma8 PMABC
Michigan State@#6 Penn State3:30ABC/ESPN
#7 Boise State@Nevada4 PMESPN2
Michigan@#10 Ohio StateNoonABC
#11 Ball State31-24Central MichiganFinal WEESPN2
#17 BYU@#12 *Utah6 PMmtn.
Air Force@#13 TCU3:30VS.
NC State@#14 North CarolinaNoonRaycom
#18 Iowa@Minnesota7 PMBTN
#19 Mississippi@LSU3:30CBS
#20 West Virginia@LouisvilleNoonESPN
#22 Oregon State@Arizona7 PMVS.
Tulane@#23 Tulsa3 PMCBSCS XXL
UTEP@#24 Houston3:30CBSCS XXL
This Week's Other HD Games
Miami (FL)23-41Georgia TechFinal THESPN
Fresno State@San Jose State9:30 FRESPN2
Tennessee@#25 Vanderbilt12:30Raycom
Colorado State@Wyoming2 PMmtn.
Syracuse@Notre Dame2:30NBC
Washington@Washington State3 PMFSN
Boston College@Wake Forest3:30ABC/ESPN
Cal Poly@Wisconsin3:30BTN
Duke@Virginia Tech5:30ESPNU
Pittsburgh@Cincinnati7 PMESPN2
Florida State@Maryland7:45ESPN
Connecticut@South Florida8 PM SUESPN
Arkansas@Mississippi State2:30
Big 12
Iowa State@Kansas State3:30FCS
Northern Illinois42-14Kent StateFinal TUCSD.TV
Buffalo@Bowling Green6 PM FRCSD.TV
Miami (OH)@Toledo7 PM FRCSD.TV
Eastern Michigan@Temple1 PMCSD.TV
Mountain West
UNLV@San Diego State8 PMCBS CS
Louisiana Tech@New Mexico State4 PMESPN+
Idaho@Hawaii8 PTGameplan
Central Florida@Memphis2 PMCBSCS XXL
Marshall@Rice3:30CBS CS
East Carolina@UAB7 PMCSS
Sun Belt
Florida Atlantic@Arkansas State3 PMESPN+
North Texas@Middle Tenn. St.3:30
Louisiana-Lafayette@Troy7 PMCSD.TV
Louisiana-Monroe@Florida International7 PM
Bowl Subdivision
Army@RutgersNoonBEN (ESPN+)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The new college football rankings, more than a few days late

...and hindered by my hibernation problem rearing its ugly head again, wiping out what I had written for the first 14 spots or so. But it's up now on the web site, and IF I decide to put up the schedule it won't be until tomorrow.

Update: The lineal titles are updated now as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 11

NBC's Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it "tentatively" schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was written with last season in mind):
  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in "flex" weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I'm assuming that's still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. A list of all teams' number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):
  • Selected game: Dallas @ Washington.
Week 12 (November 23):
  • Selected game: Indianapolis @ San Diego.
Week 13 (November 30):
  • Selected game: Chicago @ Minnesota.
Week 14 (December 7):
  • Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
  • Prospects: The Seahawks are just too terrible for this game to keep its spot. 6-4 v. 2-8? Please.
  • On the protected games front, we have chaos. A commenter on this post gave a complete list of protections but it was "unofficial" and was "heading into the season" when every source I've read, even those not giving a specific week, has said CBS and Fox protect their games in "October", obviously when the season is already underway. So I'm keeping my own protection speculation while adding the commenter's thoughts.
  • Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
  • "That's my story and I'm sticking to it"'s protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and Jags-Bears (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Forget what I said about looking at Cowboys-Steelers' prospects in the face of Redskins-Ravens being protected, as the AA post in question itself would seem to indicate the Cowboys will stay on Fox. At 6-4 v. 6-4, Redskins-Ravens is the bar by which all other games are judged this week. Eagles-Giants would have looked lopsided even with an Eagles win, but if that didn't matter even the tie gives it a higher average record. Jags-Bears is out, but Falcons-Saints is very much alive. Throw Dolphins-Bills in the conversation as well as a dark horse. I'd been ignoring it in weeks past and AA does in its post, but it has the exact same pair of records as Falcons-Saints. Titans-Browns could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans win this week.
  • Analysis: This is Redskins-Ravens' to lose. But if even one team loses - very possible with the Ravens playing the Eagles this week - it opens the door for Falcons-Saints or Dolphins-Bills. The latter is not my impression of a marquee game, improved teams or no, and it would lose a tiebreaker to either of the other two. Note that the Saints don't play until Monday night. Those three are the major contenders but there are still two potential curveballs as well. The Eagles absolutely positively have to beat the Ravens for their game's slim chances to remain alive, though, as must the Titans beat the Jets.
Week 15 (December 14):
  • Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
  • Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11 (as did TMS&ISTI): so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back. And this game might be alive again. A lot depends on what the Cowboys do with Tony Romo back, and that's off to a good start.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
  • "That's my story and I'm sticking to it"'s protections: None.
  • Other possible games: Bucs-Falcons looks great, but they're running in a dead heat with Steelers-Ravens if that game isn't protected. Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers both trail those two, and the former may be becoming lopsided. Vikings-Cardinals may be closer than Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers anyway. Titans-Texans could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans keep winning. If the pick was made today, Giants-Cowboys' main advantage may well be its name value, because it's still a little lopsided.
Week 16 (December 21):
  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
  • Prospects: AA doesn't see this changing. What? It's 4-6 @ 7-3! That's after a Chargers loss, so they're going the wrong way! Don't JUST look at Steelers-Titans being protected!
  • Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
  • "That's my story and I'm sticking to it"'s protections: Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS)
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong and Bills-Broncos may well be out, while Falcons-Vikings faltered this week. If TMS&ISTI is right all this is moot because the Panthers and Giants would have to collapse to give up the spot, but if it was Panthers-Giants protected Eagles-Redskins probably wouldn't have a chance.
Week 17 (December 28 Playoff Positioning Watch):
  • Note that not only is there no longer an NBC tentative game, there's no NFL Network game. Apparently the league learned their lesson from last year's Patriots-Giants debacle.
  • AFC East: Anyone's game. All four teams within two games of one another, with the Bills trailing the field and the Jets leading. The Pats and Bills play each other, as do the Dolphins and Jets.
  • AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it, but the Bengals are hanging by half a game. The Steelers and Ravens are running away with it, with the Steelers holding the one-game edge. The Steelers play the Browns while the Ravens play the Jags.
  • AFC South: The Titans are running away with it. No matter the standings, if the Titans remain undefeated Titans-Colts could be a lock. The Texans are out; the Jags are out by way of having already lost to the Titans both times.
  • AFC West: Every team is theoretically in it. Broncos and Chargers the main contenders, and play each other. Hmm. However, the gap is two games, advantage Broncos.
  • AFC Wild Card: Any two of the Dolphins, Patriots, Ravens, and Colts would get the nod if the season ended today. The Bills are a game back, with the Browns, Jags, and Chargers waiting in the wings, adding luster to both East games, Titans-Colts, Browns-Steelers, Jags-Ravens, and Broncos-Chargers. Every team is mathematically in it.
  • NFC East: Every team within 3.5 games, but the Giants have a three-game lead over everyone, another half-game back to the Eagles. The Giants play the Vikings but the Redskins play the 49ers.
  • NFC North: Bears-Vikings-Packers three-way tie. The Bears play the Texans and the Packers play the Lions, but the Vikings play the Giants. The Lions are mathematically still in it.
  • NFC South: Every team within three games, with the Panthers leading and the Bucs one game behind, the Falcons two, the Saints three. The Panthers play the Saints, but Tampa Bay plays the Raiders and the Falcons play the Rams.
  • NFC West: Every team mathematically still in it but the Cardinals are running away with it. They play the Seahawks. Hardly must-see TV.
  • NFC Wild Card: The Bucs and either the Redskins, Cowboys, or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Eagles a half-game back; the NFC North losers and Saints a full game back; no one exactly two games back. Despite all but four teams being within a game of the playoffs, the only real interesting NFC games are Giants-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, and Panthers-Saints. Those could be competitive games for the NBC pick, especially the first two, but the AFC holds the overall edge right now. The NFL may have done too much to ensure the best game for NBC, creating an overabundance of choices.

Random Internet Discovery of the Week

This isn't illegal?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If this post is full of the HTML code for an ampersand in hyperlinks that get broken as a result, blame Blogger's "draft" post editor.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized lingering resentment.)

I'm here to talk about a serious malady sweeping the nation. It's called OOTS Gamer Theory Syndrome, or OGTS.

The malady is restricted to readers and fans of the popular webcomic Order of the Stick, and is caused by falling under the perception that the strip is actually a chronicle of a D&D campaign, rather than merely being set in a universe that runs on D&D rules. Symptoms are generally only manifest on the OOTS forums, and include referring to "_____'s player" and "the DM" (which may or may not actually be a representation of Rich Burlew), and interpreting characters' actions through the lens of the "player" supposedly carrying those actions out.

It's reasonable to fall under this perception anytime (I myself once proposed that the strip would end with just such a revelation), as the distinction can be hard to grasp for new readers (especially those already immersed in D&D), and to some extent Rich has played with the notion of a GM being present from time to time, but for whatever reason it has become particularly common recently, with virtually every strip's thread (and a few others as well) eventually including some post that looks at what's happening from a "game" point of view, despite Rich being on record in stating that there are no "players" at all, and despite evidence ranging from NPCs as fleshed out as any PCs (especially the main villains) to the very existence of the prequel books. Rich even made reference to the phenomenon in a recent strip.

One result has been a mere shift in terminology: "_____'s hypothetical player, if there was a player..."

It's hard to figure out what's causing this sudden move to proclaim it merely a game. Perhaps it's a result of a few people happening upon and reading too much Darths and Droids for whatever reason. Perhaps it's a result of impatience with the seeming abandonment of the megaplot.

Or perhaps it has something to do with the specific content. At least one forum member recently complained that the strip had traded in being "consistently funny" for "player motivated drama". More than a few people, including one thread I linked to above, have compared the current state of the OOTS to a gaming party in disarray, with everyone upset at the DM and the DM himself slowly losing control of everything. (Oddly, although the interpretation of OOTS-as-campaign has become popular, the exact nature varies: some see the split as partly player-driven - possibly as a means of filibustering a main plot they didn't sign up for - some see it as the DM railroading the players and wasting everyone's time, and some even see it as being the victim of circumstances.)

That may at first be just a variant of the megaplot being abandoned, but consider:
  • Celia has effectively slid into Roy's role in the Order, if only in filling out the Order's nominal six members.
  • Within the current book, we have seen what has been happening with Team Evil for exactly one stint. We haven't seen the Linear Guild at all. Not since the first book has any book been so Order-centric.
  • Similarly, Vaarsuvius appears to be the only member of the Order that cares that much about the gates anymore. (Well, and Roy.) Durkon and Elan don't even seem concerned about reuniting the Order, and Haley, Celia, and Belkar (and for that matter, V) are powerless to do anything about it, and are a bit distracted at the moment.
  • The whole sequence with Roy's pseudo-ghost seems more pointless than the sidequest itself. Roy can't affect the material plane, the use of his looking down on the mortal world as a framing device has mostly been abandoned, etc. This strip may be the most pivotal strip of his time as a ghost.
  • Vaarsuvius' behavior has been seen as out-of-character by many fans. Either V's player is sending a not-so-subtle message to the DM to get the plot moving, or he's been taken over by someone else. (This is undermined both by V's decision to splinter the group further, and by considerable evidence in earlier strips that, if not un-Good, V's certainly not Lawful.)
  • Previously, there was a fairly straight line, with only a slight diversion for the climactic confrontation with the Linear Guild, from the revelation of the nature of the gates to the Battle of Azure City. (As I may have mentioned in the past, the end of the Azure City arc could well, had it ended slightly differently, been a potential stopping point for the whole strip.) The tone of the strip now is actually quite similar to what it was prior to that revelation, and could be seen as a reaction to the considerable darkening of the strip/campaign that didn't come that long before.
  • The OOTS has been split for nearly a quarter of the strip's entire existence, and Roy has been dead for more than a quarter. As I've mentioned in the past, Rich has never been shy about shaking up the status quo, but this shake-up is literally blocking the plot from moving. If you don't have faith in the relevancy of all this to the main plot - and that faith has been waning with every strip, especially those focusing on the Therkla and Thieves' Guild subplots - you might think Rich had written himself into a corner, intending a fairly brief diversion to cool down from the ramped-into-gear main plot and going out of control. Forget a breather episode, this is an entire breather book and most of the forum-bound fandom thinks it's overstayed its welcome.
Last time I wrote about OOTS, I said that "this section of the OOTS' story is going to have far-ranging consequences that could prevent some of those goals from ever being completely fulfilled." I was referring to V's decision to leave the Durkon/Elan branch of the OOTS in #599, which I suspected could result in the de facto permanent removal of Durkon and Elan from the OOTS. That's one far-ranging consequence that may be being set up, but what about everything else? What was the point of introducing Kubota and fleshing him out just to abruptly kill him? What was the point of the whole Therkla thing? What's the point of what's happening now with the Thieves' Guild? What's the point of stretching out the split itself this long?

Not only is the fandom starting to get restless about their ability to believe that this will all matter in the end, it's starting to take several leaps of faith to link this to the main plot. Kubota was just a feint to introduce Qarr; Elan and Haley's relationship is going to be strained; the Thieves' Guild is going to become a recurring villain group; by the time the OOTS get back together Team Evil is already at Girard's Gate. The mere fact I'm making these leaps of faith rather than treating it as a diversion is a sign of how it's gone longer than most people would probably have expected or liked.

The OOTS has drifted off the beaten path before, of course. Their lengthy encounter with the bandits has had zero impact on anything that's happened since then, but it came before the Order met Miko, let alone learned about the Snarl, and can be excused by the strip still being at least partially a gag strip then. All their encounters with the Linear Guild have of course had next to nothing to do with the gates (so far, but that will almost certainly end the next time they show up, given evidence here and here), but the encounter in War and XPs, besides tying up a loose end from the pre-Snarl era, leads to Haley getting her voice back and keeps the OOTS distracted enough not to run off to the wrong gate - which in fact, given some of what we know about Girard's Gate and the potential of the Oracle's prophecy to be twisted, could well be what's happening here. (More on how the Linear Guild's encounters with the OOTS has really affected them in a later post.) So far, it's far from clear even if this will have any long-term impact.

It's possible that Rich had over-emphasized the plot from about #275 (or even #200) onward, and that the plot has only ever been incidential to the humor. In this theory, people who are complaining about the pace at which the plot is moving are misinterpreting the nature of the entire strip. But if so, it's a widespread enough misconception that at least some of the blame has to be heaped at the feet of Rich Burlew, because he created the circumstances that are now ruining people's enjoyment of what might be, beyond the surface, actually a fairly entertaining part of the strip's history. And if it's not a misconception, and Rich really is taking a long time on what might be a comparatively small plot point, it may well be the most major blemish on the Giant's record. (The first snag in a new fabric of reality, perhaps?)

None of the people complaining, to my knowledge, have ditched the strip. And I'm not among those who isn't appreciating the strip for what it is at the moment. I'm not one of the players complaining to the GM. But it's clear that the player mutiny is growing to disturbing levels, and it's something the GM may have to address with more than a wink and a nod soon. Ultimately, the spread of OGTS may be most directly attributable to Rich Burlew himself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 13 picks

Speaking of SNF... Week 13 (November 30):
  • Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
  • Prospects: Two 5-5 teams in a 3-way tie for the lead in the NFC North. Might be a possibility to keep its spot. But both teams losing is REALLY bad news, especially to fal back to .500.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Redskins (Fox) and either Steelers (7-3)-Patriots (6-4) or Broncos (6-4)-Jets (7-3) (CBS).
  • Other possible games mentioned on Wednesday's Watch and their records: Panthers (8-2)-Packers (5-5), Falcons (6-4)-Chargers (4-6), Saints (5-5)-Bucs (7-3)
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: None.
  • Analysis: It's Thanksgiving Weekend, so more teams like the Cowboys and Titans aren't available. Really mediocre weekend. If I had to choose I would say the game CBS didn't protect is probably the favorite if a game is going to be swapped out, but other than the appeal of the Steelers, Patriots, or Brett Favre, there's no compelling reason to make a switch. I make this prediction with the caveat that I would not be surprised to see the unprotected game selected.
  • Final prediction: Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings (no change).

I'm actually tempted to find the e-mail address of a BCS commissioner and e-mail this to them.

The major news of the past week in sports arguably had nothing to do with any game that was actually played, or any athlete. It was ESPN making a bid for the rights to the BCS that would have put all five games - including the Rose Bowl they already have a contract through 2014 for - on ESPN, not ABC. It may be too late to do anything about it even if Da Blog had some audience, as Fox's deadline is already up today and they aren't matching the offer. Only serving as a backdrop to that news is ESPN signing up for British Open rights and NASCAR's Heidi Game. I didn't have much to say on the subject for Da Blog last week, so this post will largely serve as a commentary to the commentary already posted on Sports Media Watch and Fang's Bites. And Eye on Sports Media, but only the part about the NASCAR "AFHV Race" has been posted yet.

But I do have some original thoughts on the matter:

This is the exact opposite of what should be happening.

Yet any observer should have seen it coming from a mile away, just not this soon.

Before I begin, let me just make a note: This post has nothing to do with your opinion on a college football playoff, or whether moving the BCS to ESPN helps or hurts the playoff cause. As much as the BCS may stink, it's the system we have, and it's in everyone's best interest to make sure it's as strong as possible except when it comes to a playoff, because when the BCS is strong college football is strong.

Remember back in August, when I got all hot and bothered about the digital transition and talked about how antennas are still around and better than ever, and conscientious consumers who have no need for cable channels had no reason to keep subscribing to cable or satellite? And how the digital transition made it possible for broadcast television and its multitude of subchannels to potentially give cable a run for its money?

Ideally we'd be seeing already a depowering of cable and a bulking up of broadcast's muscle. The BCS should be scared to death of the potential lost audience and stature brought by moving to ESPN, if not by the potential ridiculousness of most of the major college football games and - for the moment - four non-BCS bowls airing on broadcast but the biggest bowls of them all airing on pay TV, where about 10% of the audience now (and that number, while it will shrink in the short term, is only going to grow) won't be able to see them. And 10% is not trivial; the National Championship and Rose Bowl are the only two bowls that regularly draw that much of the total audience between broadcast and cable.

But in that same post, I also mentioned that no one has an interest in telling you to ditch cable and/or the dish. The cable companies don't have an interest, the providers are too small, peripheral, and one-time to have a credible interest, the regulatory agencies have had eight years of not having an interest, even TV stations themselves have no interest even as they advertise the transition, advertisements that are mostly about not losing the customers they have.

That last point might not necessarily be the case, certainly for the broadcast networks (unless they nip a piece of their stations' retransmission-consent deals), because this might be for their very survival.

Really, the only reason ESPN airs any sports bigger than the WNBA is because they have an unfair natural advantage over broadcast networks. They collect a piece of subscriber fees from cable companies and broadcast networks do not. These days, almost all sports is little more than a loss leader for the Big Four networks (except maybe the Super Bowl and Olympics), there only to serve as a platform to promote other programming. (For this reason, there may come a day where to stay on broadcast, a sporting event would need to rate higher than primetime programming. For that reason, there's a part of me that's wondering what the chances are/would have been for the CW or My Network TV, two networks that struggle even to break 2 ratings with their best programming, to swoop to the rescue here.) Judging by a comment on the SMW post, that might not even be because of production costs (although other than news, sports is the only thing networks produce themselves), but simply because the rise of cable channels like ESPN has hiked rights fees to the moon. (If broadcast networks want to keep doing sports, they might want to do what I suggested in the last paragraph and take a piece of stations' retransmission-consent deals.)

(In my opinion, neither ABC nor especially Fox really gave the BCS enough of a big-event feel to serve its promotional purpose. Except in years like the one when USC and Texas met, March Madness feels bigger than the BCS, even when the BCS National Championship is consistently higher rated. I suggest the BCS Championship Game be moved to a weekend to allow for a semi-lengthy pregame show. Of course, part of the problem is also that there's no playoff to build anticipation to the championship game.)

Sports Media Watch considers a world in which just about every major sporting event could potentially move to cable. If this goes through, it would have to be only a matter of time before the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs moved exclusively to Versus or ESPN in the United States, and the MLS Cup would probably also make such a move. Those are the boneheaded, obvious moves. Had the IRL made its recent deal with Versus after the BCS made their move, they might not have blinked twice about moving the Indy 500 to cable as well. Tennis' majors might, for the most part, become cable-exclusive. Those are still boneheadedly obvious considered in the context of the British Open deal.

No, SMW raises a boogeyman that - whether Paulsen realizes it or not - has been around virtually since the instant ESPN landed its first NFL deal: the prospect of people having to pay to watch the Super Bowl. It hasn't happened yet, but paying to watch the BCS is surely a giant step. With everything the BCS is higher rated than, this creates the very plausible scenario of the World Series, NBA Finals, March Madness, Daytona 500, horse racing's Triple Crown, and the other three golf majors - and maybe even early rounds of the NFL playoffs - moving to cable as well. Leagues that have to worry about losing an antitrust exemption from Congress, such as the NFL and MLB, might reluctantly turn down such an offer, but the BCS is only five bowls so it doesn't have to worry about such a thing. You might think the NCAA would be thinking of their students but an inexorable drive to ESPN has been happening there as well (the Women's Final Four was on CBS not that long ago). I don't even know if the NBA has an exemption to worry about.

Paulsen ends with: "While sporting events on broadcast still draw the highest ratings, the relative success of Monday Night Football and baseball's League Championship Series on cable is evidence that the majority of the television audience can find marquee events on any network. At this point, broadcast television no longer needs sports, and vice versa."

Um, no, sports does still need broadcast television thank you very much. If the BCS moves to ESPN, it's only one step in a long-running expensivization of sports, from rising ticket prices (and evidence that if sports teams charged market rate prices would be WAY higher) to the rise of ESPN and beyond. If sports keeps raising the price of admission for everything as far as it will go, especially in poor, blue-collar areas like Detroit, it will lose its soul. It will stop being a point of civic pride for people of all means and become a form of entertainment for the rich. If the BCS moves to cable it will surely dilute ratings for the entire season (the next two seasons' MLB ratings on Fox may be a referendum on this, given the drama that played out in the ALCS on TBS); why follow the play for free when you can't afford to see the climax?

And broadcast television still needs sports, if not for its own sake as a vehicle for advertising other programming then symbolically. The death of sports on broadcast is the death of broadcast, period. One need only see the role of the NFL in the rise of Fox to see the impact sports can have - or more ominously, the decline of NBC between losing the NBA and gaining the NFL (a decline that admittedly may or may not have anything to do with those two events). But more practically, if broadcast can't compete with cable for sports rights, who's to say it can compete with cable for anything else? Already news divisions at the Big Three are in decline from competition from cable and the Internet. If sports follows suit, could entertainment be far behind? Could better-heeled (and less-censored) cable networks like USA and TBS and especially HBO and Showtime lure away top talent and prized shows? If broadcast television's only financial advantage is to the consumer, soon it might not be worth that much. As they say, it's all about money.

I should note that unlike Fang's Bites, I don't believe ESPN is trying to actively kill sports on ABC. When Fang wonders how much Disney prized MNF as a property for ABC that it let it go to ESPN, he conveniently swallows the ESPN propaganda and ignores that what ESPN is airing now isn't really the inheritor of the MNF legacy. The NFL wanted to move the main primetime package to Sunday nights and ABC wasn't willing to give up its Desperate Housewives-Grey's Anatomy one-two punch on Sundays it had at the time. The MNF on ESPN now is really a continuation of ESPN's prior Sunday night package, not the legacy of Frank, Howard and Dandy Don, which now lives on NBC with Al Michaels. (As a commenter on Fang's post points out, for ESPN to have lost the NFL entirely would mean losing a significant part of its value and thus the decision had little to do with MNF's value to ABC - which would have been diluted tremendously - and everything to do with its value to ESPN.) If ABC were not part of the same family as ESPN they may well have made the same decision.

And keep in mind that ABC added NASCAR racing, Heidi Race or no, after losing MNF, and although it never has any shot to run the Daytona 500 in any given year it does air the entire Chase for the Sprint Cup, something NBC wasn't doing. And for all that Saturday is a wasteland, it was also after losing MNF that ABC gave up whatever it could have made by programming even the old "Wonderful World of Disney" in that time slot to air college football, succeeding well enough (and incidentially, according enough of a big-event feel) that some people want other networks and other sports to follow suit (where before it would have just been me). ABC has given up the British Open and ESPN isn't giving it a return to the BCS, but in the latter case Fox is giving up on the BCS as well, and it's telling that CBS and NBC aren't stepping in.

But here's the thing: the departure of sports from broadcast affects you even if you're a cable subscriber. Right now, ESPN charges cable operators more than any other network. The top ten cable networks in terms of price charged to cable operators are also populated primarily by sports networks, and this is a big hang-up in the NFL Network's dealings with cable operators. Those costs get passed on to you, and they are attributable to the value of sports in so many manifold ways to so many people, but especially the NFL. Your cable bill could shoot to the moon if ESPN acquires a property potentially bigger even than MNF.

And in this, there may be a silver lining - as well as a warning to the BCS and something of a duty. The FCC has been pushing for the institution of "a la carte" selection for cable channels, on the grounds that people should not pay for channels they don't watch. Small cable channels have been pushing back against such a requirement, arguing they couldn't survive in such an environment, but they barely survive anyway and they could gain some new viewers who were not willing to pay for large packages or whose cable operators can now add more channels because they don't have to pay for every subscriber, watching or not, for each one. The real losers could be the larger cable channels like ESPN, which lose the services of people who aren't watching them and can't substantially raise prices or they'll just lose more people. That will mean less money and less resources to provide better sports coverage, but perhaps more to the point, it will mean less money to spend towards rights fees (and less of an audience if some people decide they won't get ESPN for the sake of one or two games). ESPN could still have some natural advantage, but broadcast networks will be able to play on a more level playing field - and that's when everyone will be able to win again.