The Big 12’s men’s basketball television schedule created quite a stir last week.
The game of the week was broadcast regionally, a dull matchup was given “Big Monday” billing, and a battle of in-state rivals could only be found on the Longhorn Network.
That combination had fans across the conference asking questions. Specifically, why are some games chosen for national TV when other, arguably better, games are relegated to regional TV?
It is a growing concern. Lately, it seems like the best games aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
Last Tuesday, Kansas and Kansas State squared off at Bramlage Coliseum for an entertaining game that fans across the country wanted to see. Both teams were ranked in the top 15, and had combined to win 23 straight. But the game was carried on the Big 12’s syndicated network, available over the air to fans living within the Big 12’s footprint and viewers with sports packages living in other areas.
A day earlier, ESPN carried two less-intriguing games nationally as part of its “Big Monday” lineup. Oklahoma State played Baylor, a battle of second-tier Big 12 teams, was the matinee. Then Oklahoma hosted struggling Texas in prime time. The remainder of ESPN’s “Big Monday” schedule also seems dull, with only K-State at Kansas and Kansas at Iowa State sticking out. By no means is it must-see TV.
Conference officials admit the television schedule wasn’t ideal, but there is no easy solution to the problem.
Unlike college football, in which nearly every game is played on Saturday and networks select games two weeks in advance, college basketball’s schedule is set well in advance. Every summer, the Big 12 works with ESPN to decide which games will be moved away from Wednesday and Saturday for television purposes and which games will be televised nationally.
Both sides try to be careful with their selections.
Kansas is always an appealing team, but picking one team for “Big Monday” over and over won’t work. What if that team underachieves or encounters injury trouble? The top mid-week games need to have a mixture of strong teams, up-and-coming teams rivalries and entertaining one-on-one matchups.
“We always try to find a balance,” said Rob Carolla, Big 12 director of communications for basketball.
The Big 12 also tries to keep some of its top games for its own syndicated network, making it more valuable and allowing every team to play in front of different television audiences. That is understandable, but regional games will always upset fans who can’t watch. Same with the Longhorn Network, which carried a game between Texas and Texas Tech on Saturday and will also air a game between Texas and K-State in late February. Unless you get the Longhorn Network, you can’t watch on TV.
One possible solution would be to schedule two games on Monday as well as Wednesday and Saturday. That way, networks could wait until game-time approaches and choose the best matchup for national TV. Carolla said that might be possible, but hasn’t been discussed.
For now, the only way to watch every Big 12 basketball game on TV is to pay for a sports package.
The next week will go a long way toward deciding whether Baylor and Oklahoma are contenders or pretenders in the Big 12. They play each other on Wednesday in Waco, Texas, and then face difficult games on Saturday. The Bears travel to Hilton Coliseum, where Iowa State has won 18 straight games, and the Sooners host Kansas State, which defeated them at Bramlage Coliseum earlier this season. If either team goes 2-0, it will be in ideal position to finish second or challenge Kansas for first. Both teams would likely take a split. But going 0-2 would damage both team’s hopes of finishing in the top three of the conference standings.
Iowa State looked like one of the worst teams in the Big 12 when it lost at Texas Tech last week. The Cyclones fell behind in the second half and panicked. They took bad shots and missed them. But then they looked like one of the best teams in the Big 12 when they defeated K-State on Saturday. Behind Will Clyburn, who won conference player of the week honors after scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, the Cyclones out-muscled the Wildcats for a win that kept them in third place in the Big 12. Iowa State always plays better at home, but that doesn’t explain the difference.
Fred Hoiberg was simply glad his team was back to normal. "I was very pleased with the way we responded,” Hoiberg said. “We got back to who we were."
Pierre Jackson has had a quiet season since being picked as the Big 12 preseason player of the year, but that has more to do with Baylor’s soft early conference schedule than anything. The Bears senior is still playing well and leads the Big 12 in scoring. He is averaging 18.7 points and 5.9 assists. He will remain a factor in the league’s player of the year race until the end.
1. Kansas (18-1, 6-0): It will be hard for anyone to catch the Jayhawks now.
2. Kansas State (15-4, 4-2): Lots of good teams lose to Kansas and Iowa State.
3. Baylor (14-5, 5-1): It’s moving week for the Bears. Up or down?
4. Oklahoma (13-5, 4-2): Crucial games against Baylor and K-State loom.
5. Iowa State (14-5, 4-2): Texas Tech loss will sting for a while.
6. Oklahoma State (13-5, 3-3): Cowboys aren’t playing up to their talent level.
7. West Virginia (9-10, 2-4): Big 12 road trips hit Mountaineers hardest.
8. Texas (9-10, 1-5): Few saw Texas end losing streak vs. Texas Tech on the Longhorn Network.
9. Texas Tech (9-9, 2-5): Iowa State win showed Red Raiders’ growth.
10. TCU (9-11, 0-7): Will the Horned Frogs go winless in Big 12?