Big Ten jumps gun for marketing


After a dozen games over the past four days, the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament concludes at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon with its championship game on CBS Sports.

The Sunday afternoon game time continues a tradition for the conference, but this season the game is being contested a week earlier than usual — and that’s a big change, with a mix of pros and cons.

The Big Ten moved its tournament a week earlier to conduct it at Madison Square Garden in New York City, hoping for more awareness and exposure in the nation’s No. 1 media market.

The conference established an office in the Big Apple years ago and has consistently used Rutgers as a reason to validate a move of events east as it works to broaden its market.

This year’s tournament was the biggest such risk in conference history. Last year the tournament was contested in Washington, D.C., in large part because of Maryland’s presence in the Big Ten, but it was held at its usual time.

Earlier and almost as far away as possible from traditional sites like Chicago and Indianapolis is a big move.

It allows for, perhaps, a little more exposure as the only big-time conference tournament at this time. Still, it’s out of rotation, so the Big Ten will not get mentioned by the media at the same time as other tournaments next week leading up to “Selection Sunday” for the NCAA Tournament.

It also allows for more rest before the most important tournament for Big Ten teams. They’re done playing this week, and will not have to take the court for at least another nine to 11 days if they get a berth in the Big Dance.

That’s a valuable amount of preparation time and rest at this time of year.

On the downside, it’s a lot of travel for fans of almost every program except Rutgers and Penn State, and the men’s tournament — with 10 games airing on the Big Ten Network — has effectively blocked any BTN attention for the women’s tournament being contested this week in Indianapolis.

Only two of those games will air on the conference network.

Most of all, the tournament move just seems forced and made for marketers.

The participants might appreciate New York City, but it’s hard to argue the Big Apple as a big college town or even a Big Ten town, and it just goes to show that marketing and money invariably trump common sense or student-athlete welfare for big-time college sports in most instances.

Olympics overview

The Winter Olympics were a ratings and viewership success, and they were profitable for NBC and NBC Sports last month, but the coverage itself was just average.

Downhill skiing analyst Bodie Miller was bland. Ice skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir were anything but bland but minus U.S. hopefuls, their work was less interesting and relevant.

Gold medal efforts by the U.S. women’s hockey team and the men’s curling team were covered well, both live and when they were re-aired. Obviously, the hockey was more fast-paced than the curling, but context and reaction shots were plentiful on coverage of both contests.

Host Mike Tirico did a good job. It’s never easy framing coverage that happened earlier for a prime-time audience, or pacing a broadcast and filling time between live action, but Tirico does both well. Actually, he does just about everything well.

Tuner tidbits

n Championship bouts from the Big Ten wrestling tournament air at 3 p.m. today on the Big Ten Network.

n AT&T SportsNet-Pittsburgh plans to televise 12 Pirates games as spring training continues. The first game will be 1:05 p.m. Thursday, March 8 vs. the Tigers, and then 1:05 p.m. Saturday, March 10 vs. the Braves.

n Lightning-rod talent Keith Olbermann returned to ESPN last week, serving as a co-host on “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony Kornheiser on Thursday and Friday. It was Olbermann’s first time on air at ESPN since leaving his gig as host of his own New York City-based show. It might not lead to more immediate ESPN assignments, but the network, which has lost a lot of talent in recent months, was wise to re-engage with Olbermann.

n ESPNU and ESPN will provide coverage of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships March 15 to March 17. As in the past, ESPN has the championship bouts at 8 p.m. the final day. Unfortunately, expect actor and Billy Baldwin to be part of the on-air team. He’s well intentioned as a supporter of the sport, but sometimes he seems surprisingly clumsy on air and heavy handed in his approach. It just seems airtime might be better served for stories about the participants than him preaching about the value of wrestling.

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