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Patriot League Cuts Ties With ESPN For CBS Sports Network

Make no mistake, it's a groundbreaker.

Earlier today, the Patriot League reached a new agreement with CBS Sports Network to show Patriot League sports contests on their network.

It's an eye opener on a multitude of levels, partially due to its impact on football coverage and some, um, interesting announcements about football coverage coming up in the next couple of days.

But the big story today involves the effect on basketball, where the Patriot League says goodbye to ESPN, the network that has carried the Patriot League men's basketball championship since 1991. (more)


The deal provides for a minimum of 12 Patriot League men's basketball regular-season and tournament contests, including the men's basketball championship, which will air on CBS Sports Network for the first time.

The Patriot League Women's Basketball Championship game will also be televised by CBS Sports Network, with additional coverage during the regular season. Coverage of the entire Patriot League Men's Lacrosse Tournament will be shown on the Network for the third consecutive year, with a minimum of four regular-season games also televised. In addition, at least two football games will be broadcast each season.

The expanded partnership with CBS Sports Network provides the most far-reaching television contract in Patriot League history. More televised men's basketball and football games will be shown in high definition, with CBS Sports Network holding the right to select additional sporting events. The Patriot League enters into its ninth consecutive year in partnership with CBS Sports Network.
The good of the deal is that it gives the Patriot League a stable home where it actually has gotten the respect and analysis it deserves.

It also holds out the promise that the men's championship game will be called by Bob Socci and John Feinstein, two announcers that have consistently given Patriot League basketball respect and honest analysis.  Hearing them call the game instead of ESPN's "C" team will be a refreshing change of pace.

It also increases the number of overall men's basketball games covered by the network by at least two, which benefits all the schools in the Patriot League. That coupled with lacrosse and women's basketball guarantees that a whole lot of programming for CBS College Sports will be Patriot League-related.

As a football fan, I'm especially intrigued by the announcement of "at least two" football games to be covered by CBS Sports Network (formerly called CBS College Sports). Not just one, or just two - "at least" two, which could mean CBS College Sports could be picking up three or four regular-season games eventually.

And the best part of the deal is that - finally! - the Patriot League men's basketball championship game will no longer be in its "historic place" on ESPN - buried in between the second round of the ACC Tournament (which always seemed to preempt coverage) and SportsCenter.

It's a great win for the league, and the schools. And it can be a great win for fans, too.

If you get CBS Sports Network, that is.

*****

As long as CBS has a master plan to get its newly-branded station onto more TV sets, this will be a great win for everybody.

But as things stand right now, CBS Sports Network is only available with a premium sports subscription in many locations (such as mine).

The hefty price tag for premium sports - especially in this economy - is a difficult one for many people to justify. When people cut back, "premium sports on cable" is one of the prime candidates for the knife.

There is another potential issue.

If you stream games over the internet (like I frequently do), you'll frequently rely on a service like CBS ULive to broadcast the games on your computer.

While you'd think games on CBS Sports Network would be available for subscribers to, say, the Patriot League All-Access package or ULive, last year CBS College Sports contests were not.

Either you paid for CBS College Sports, or you got nothing.

In 2011, will CBS Sports Network be available online?

Or will CBS use their leverage to get the CBS Sports Network on the basic tier of more TV providers, meaning that the games can be seen by more people on basic cable?

If the answer to both of these questions is "no", then the only option for Patriot League fans is to dig deep, shell out the extra money for specialized sports - or go to the sports bar to watch the games.

That's not a situation that will make many new fans.

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So my take on the TV deal is one of excitement - but with the huge asterisk that CBS Sports Network come up with ways to increase the visibility of their network, whether through TV providers or streaming online.

Is that part of CBS' plan?

I sure hope so.

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