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OSU Spring Game Will Be On TV...Sort Of
By John Porentas

Just as in the previous six years, you are going to be able to watch the OSU spring football game on television this year.

Were it only so simple.

For the past six years the OSU spring football game has been televised live in the Columbus area and around Ohio by WBNS television in Columbus and around the state on the Ohio News Network. That won't be the case this year.

"We've had the privilege of airing the OSU spring game for the last six years," began Tom Griesdorn, general manager of WBNS.

Griesdorn said his organization wanted to do the broadcast again this year but was unable to do so when it could not get permission to air it live from the Big Ten Network which now owns the rights to the game.

"We proposed to the Ohio State University that we would be happy to carry the game again this year on WBNS. We made that request through (OSU Administrator and former Director of Sports Information) Steve Snapp. Steve made an appeal to the Big Ten Network and it was denied," said Griesdorn.

Griesdorn is obviously a little miffed over the fact that WBNS is being snubbed after a six-year history of airing the game.

"We worked with OSU to develop a charitable aspect to the game so it all became rather hand in glove," said Griesdorn.

"We raised funds for the mid-Ohio food bank.

"It was a great partnership, then came the Big Ten Network and we lost that partnership. We lost that opportunity to carry the games this year because as of the end of last year, the season ending 2006, ESPN+ lost the rights. This is the first spring game that is the aftermath of that," Griesdorn said.

With WBNS and ONN out of the picture it was up to the Big Ten Network to air the game live or not. They opted not to do so, but rather to air it as a delayed broadcast and online via streaming video. According to Big Ten spokesperson Elizabeth Conlisk, the BTN had several reasons for making that decision. Among them are the fact that OSU is not the only Big Ten institution conducting a spring game on April 19.

"There are eight games that are occurring at the same time. Frankly, that's probably the biggest issue," said Conlisk.

"There's eight games going on at exactly the same time and if we made the decision to broadcast the Ohio State game live and not any of the other ones...?" Conlisk asked rhetorically.

Obviously that would not be a good thing for the people at the Big Ten Network who would have to put up with the carping from the other seven schools if they aired the OSU game live and not the games of the other schools. The question is whether Ohio State fans should have to do without their spring game live on television, something they've had for six years, because it might step on the toes of fans at Purdue or Iowa or Illinois. As for Ohio State, the university Department of Athletics would have liked to seen it on-air live.

"We would like to have had it on live," said Snapp. "It didn't work out, but it will be on delayed and will be streamed," Snapp said.

The politics of the Big Ten is one issue, but Conlisk added that there are serious contractual considerations that also preclude a live broadcast of the spring game.

"It's a situation where with our distribution it would be unfair," Conlisk said.

"We have distribution partners in Columbus in Insight and WOW! and Direct TV and Dish TV.

"To put that on over the air in Columbus, that is one of the key issues. Then Time Warner would get that (as well) and they're not a partner."

Conlisk was careful to add that the decision not to air the OSU spring game was not an attempt to leverage Time Warner in any way, but rather a matter of remaining in compliance with legal agreements in place. Granting WBNS rights to air the spring game would be outside those agreements.

"This isn't a game, we're not leveraging anybody, these are distribution agreements that can't be violated," said Conlisk.

"You can't give it to a station that would air it through an entity as in Time Warner that is not one of our distribution partners," Conlisk said.

That all may be true, but the bottom line is that a game of interest to the OSU fan base that used to air live will not be aired live this season. Instead it will air late-night, a time that some find inconvenient. The streaming broadcast is available, but that can be problematical for those who do not have broadband internet connections.

The promise of the Big Ten Network has been to increase the amount of Big Ten sports seen on television and The Big Ten Network has delivered on that promise. Wrestling, swimming, softball, baseball, field hockey, diving, women's basketball and many other sports have never had so much coverage. For people who enjoy those sports (like this writer) that has been a boon. The question in Columbus is whether or not that offsets the loss of coverage in sports such as football and to a large extent the availability of coverage of men's basketball. The loss of the live broadcast of the Ohio State spring game is not the first example of lost OSU football programming in the Columbus market since the inception of the Big Ten Network

Buckeye Classics was a locally produced program featuring Ohio State football that disappeared last year. According to producer Steve Ehlsoff, the series had a contractual agreement to air on Fox Sports Ohio last season as well as an agreement for the production of new episodes. That all fell through when the Big Ten Network would not grant them rights to use highlight film. Without that, there was no show and it did not air. Additionally, no new episodes were produced. Could there be other losses ahead?

The contract for The Jim Tressel show was not renewed with the current producer, JFS Enterprises. That show currently airs on WBNS and on Fox Sports Ohio. JFS contracted WBNS for technical production, and according Griesdorn, there were a few darts thrown at that production last season as well.

"We ran into a snag with the Big Ten Network because we were proceeding as in years past.

"The Big Ten Network called and said 'You can't use any of that material, we own it.'

"We said that without that material we don't have a show.

"They gave us a specific exemption and we installed a decoder where we can download a feed for the show, but it was a very uneasy moment there when we received a call from the Big Ten network saying we were not in compliance."

The JFS contract for the coaches shows (Tressel, Thad Matta and Jim Foster) runs through next season. Griesdorn was not sure what the plans for those shows are after that.

"I think the plans are for that show to be produced in-house (at Ohio State)," said Griesdorn.

Griesdorn could not say what distribution plans are for the shows after next year.

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