College baseball returns to TV

By Erik Hall

Regular season college baseball is gradually returning to national television.

On Thursday, College Sports Television released its 2005 schedule of regular season college baseball games. This Friday, ESPNU will be launched, which will provide a second outlet for regular season college baseball.

Prior to CSTV’s launch on April 7, 2003, it had been about 15 years since regular season college baseball was available on national television.

“Back when I was playing (college baseball) in 1986 and 1987, ESPN had Sunday night college baseball games,” said Iowa head baseball coach Jack Dahm. “It was a big hit for college baseball games to be seen on ESPN. Now, Major League Baseball has overtaken TV. They started doing Major League Baseball on ESPN Sunday nights. We have been without college baseball on TV since.”

Regular season college baseball is now coming back.

ESPN2 plans to broadcast a regular season baseball game between Tulane and LSU on April 19. ESPNU plans to televise regular season college baseball games, but they will not broadcast any games until April and have not released the schedule of games.

CSTV plans to broadcast 14 regular season college baseball games this year, an increase of 10 games from 2004.

“For the third straight year, CSTV will provide unsurpassed on-air and online coverage of college baseball,” said Tim Pernetti in a statement released with the schedule. Pernetti is the CSTV senior vice president for programming and talent. “Our ‘NCAA Baseball on CSTV’ schedule features the most prominent college baseball programs.”

Of the 28 teams scheduled to play games on CSTV during the regular season, only one is from the Big Ten Conference. Iowa plays at Nebraska on Wednesday, April 6.

“It’s a game with regional significance between two rival schools, Nebraska vs. Iowa,” Dahm said. “I think it is a good game for TV. We are excited. I just wish there were more Big Ten games on TV.”

Of the 11 conferences represented with a team playing on CSTV, the Big Ten is one of just three conferences that has only one team playing on the network.

Teams from the Big 12 Conference are scheduled to make the most appearances on CSTV. Big 12 teams play 10 times on CSTV. From the Big 12 Conference, No. 1 Texas plays twice, No. 25 Baylor plays twice and No. 18 Nebraska plays on CSTV four times.

“If baseball is going to reach the same status that it has in the southern states then the north is going to have to start putting some of their games on TV,” said Illinois head baseball coach Itch Jones.

Pernetti could not be reached for comment.

While regular season college games had gone off TV for a while, a staple that remained was the College World Series. Though the broadcast has moved from CBS to ESPN, the networks’ interest in College World Series has remained.

“The College World Series continues to grow and has been instrumental in college games getting on TV,” Dahm said. “I think (television networks) realize that college baseball is continuing to get bigger. ESPN has helped make ‘The Road to Omaha’ one of the premiere events on ESPN right now.”

Viewers paid attention to the 2004 College World Series broadcasts from Omaha, Neb.

ESPN enjoyed a 6 percent increase in the ratings for the 2004 College World Series over the 2003 event ratings. ESPN averaged 966,000 households watching the 15 games.

“The College World Series is a big event for us,” said Josh Krulewitz, ESPN Director of Media Relations. “We expect ESPNU will add additional momentum.”

Strong ratings for the College World Series benefit college baseball, but not necessarily the Big Ten Conference. It has been 20 years since a Big Ten team played in the College World Series.

Michigan earned a spot among the final eight teams in 1984.

“I think it would help for people to see that there is a good brand of baseball played in the north,” Jones said. “There is that opinion that all southern teams are real good and not all southern teams are real good.

“If you look at the College World Series, it’s basically the same southern teams that are in the World Series. It’s not like there is a big change every year.”

This year, the Big Ten Conference will have a postseason game on national television. CSTV has an agreement to show the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament on May 28.

Big Ten baseball games may be broadcast on ESPNU this year too.

“We have been in the process of talking with all different conferences, including the Big Ten,” Krulewitz said. “We have an existing deal with the Big Ten. For the Big Ten we have football and men’s and women’s basketball and we are working with all our conferences to seek additional opportunities (to broadcast games on ESPNU).”

Phone calls to the Big Ten Conference were not returned.

Only two conferences currently have announced contracts with ESPNU to broadcast baseball games – the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).

“I hope in future years that we get more Big Ten games on TV,” Dahm said. “I feel like we are one of the premier conferences, especially when you look at northern conferences. Iowa is fortunate to be picked to be on national TV, and I hope we represent the conference positively. Hopefully, you will see more and more college baseball games on national television.”