By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — You might have heard that West Virginia and Kansas played a basketball game at the Coliseum Wednesday night.
It was a rather important game. Exciting, too. Sold out.
But you may have missed it.
See, it was shown on ESPN$.
They call it ESPN+, bless their souls, but the only plus goes into ESPN’s bank account … maybe to Comcast’s, too, and maybe to the Big 12’s.
Really, in this case, ESPN stands for EverySuckerPaysNetwork.
But you, the people who they are playing these games for, you have to pay extra to see it in your own living room where you probably are already paying close to $200 a month or more for your internet and a thousand channels, most of them showing movies you’ve already seen or movies you don’t want your children to see.
Or maybe your children don’t want you to see it.
While we all can agree that this game should have been an ESPN game between the nation’s No. 3 team and its No. 14 team, instead the power brokers opted to display it for the smallest audience possible rather than the largest.
Maybe that’s why Ben Roethlisberger drove down to watch from a courtside seat, not wanting to watch this one on his telephone.
What’s more, you can’t buy a single game on the service. Instead, you can either buy a month for $4.95 or the year for $49.99. It sounds like a pretty good deal until you remember there are no WVU games in July or August, so in reality you spend 49 cents more than if you buy it monthly for 10 months.
Now this may be a pretty good deal for the big city folks, but there are a lot of people in West Virginia who don’t have internet connections and therefore can’t get the game anyway.
We understand with our world the way it is now, this is probably one of the day’s smaller problems, but somehow this week it found its way into a U. S. Senate committee hearing, thanks to West Virginia Senator Shelly Capito. Capito took the opportunity to bring it up to Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, and Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, who were there to testify on a totally different matter.
“I’m going to diverge a little bit from the chairman telling us to stay strictly on message because I have commissioner Bowlsby here and I wanted to ask a question,” it was reported Capito said. “You recently signed a Big 12 deal to stream on ESPN+.
“Rural state, West Virginia. Playing Kansas [Wednesday]. You can only view the game if you pay $4.99 for a subscription and if you have connectivity. It’s been a source of very deep concern to West Virginia.
“These teams are our pro teams. We want to see that WVU victory on our TVs on Wednesday. And then Baylor, the No. 1 team in the nation, on Saturday… Can you respond to that, please?”
Bowlsby offered up a well rehearsed oration on the value of ESPN$.
“I’ve had the opportunity to respond to this question previously,” the commish said, without charge for the Senator. “We took a leap of faith and believe the ESPN platform is best in class. So it’s a voyage of exploration. There isn’t any doubt about that.
“We live in five states with 35 million people, and as such there isn’t really the option of a linear network as some of the other conferences have done. The process is the best we have available to us, and, frankly, it’s quite good.
“We’re up to 8 million subscribers. We’re part of a package that includes Disney Plus that has about 30 million subscribers. The cable universe is shrinking about 1.5 percent to 2 percent a year. We’re going to have a lot fewer cable households down the road than we have today. And the digital platforms are the future.
“I was involved in the roll out of the Big Ten Network and the Pac-12 Network, and I have to say the number of complaints we’ve had has been much less than those two roll outs.
“But the objection you raise is exactly the right one. If you don’t have broadband that’s capable in a rural area, it’s difficult to get it. But we do have it available on a multitude of platforms, and, for the most part, that level of broadband is available just about everywhere.”
Apparently, Bob Bowlsby has never been to Matwan, leading Capito to this retort.
“Maybe it’s a little before its time, but it’s a source of irritation to us. I’m sure you understand that.”
Funny, isn’t it. You get the Super Bowl with your internet service, the World Series, endless NBA and NHL playoffs, the NCAA Tournament, but yet you have to pay extra to see Iowa State play Cornell in volleyball.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.