- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Commissioners of mid-major conferences are looking to leverage this year’s success in the NCAA tournament into greater national television exposure in the future, but networks have thus far been slow to open their arms.

George Mason, Wichita State and other surprising tournament teams brought more attention to mid-major conferences this season than perhaps ever before, but officials from the Missouri Valley, Colonial Athletic Association and other similar conferences said they are still fighting to earn coverage of more than the half-dozen conference games currently shown on cable and satellite services.

“We’ve had discussions with other conferences about adding games that would be worthy of national exposure,” said Doug Elgin, commissioner of the Missouri Valley conference, which earned four NCAA tournament berths and had two teams advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in its history. “It’s difficult to do. We’re trying to be as aggressive as we possibly can.”

Compared to major conference opponents, mid-majors have lagged in terms of the number of televised games on CBS, ABC or the ESPN networks. Major conference teams routinely get more nationally televised games than some entire mid-major conferences, giving them considerably more money and an edge in recruiting players with NBA aspirations.

“We have to earn it,” said CAA Commissioner for Basketball Ron Bertovich. “There’s no question George Mason had a great year, but we have to go deeper than that. I think we will get more [national television broadcasts] but the fact of the matter is that there are only a finite number of windows out there.”

This year, for the first time, CBS carried the MVC tournament championship game, after negotiating a licensing arrangement with an ESPN regional subsidiary. It was the only national over-the-air game involving two mid-major teams outside the NCAA tournament. The championship will air on CBS again in 2007, with the network holding an option for 2008.

ESPN and ESPN2 televised eight regular-season games involving MVC teams, including five games on Feb. 18 as part of ESPN’s “Bracketbuster” series. The fledgling ESPNU, which broadcasts collegiate games to about 8million homes across the country, also carried eight MVC games this season.

Teams from the CAA, meanwhile, were seen on ESPN or ESPN2 eight times, including a “Bracketbuster” game between Wichita State and George Mason and the conference championship. ESPNU televised three other games involving CAA teams.

ESPN officials defended their coverage of mid-major conferences like the CAA and MVC, and said they have no plans to add more games to the broadcast schedule.

“We have a large commitment to these conferences,” ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. “It’s not that we don’t want to show these games. It’s that we already do.”

Krulewitz did say, however, that ESPN would consider showing any rematches involving George Mason and any of the teams it beat en route to this year’s Final Four.

Two of the CAA’s early-season games on ESPN2 involved Drexel taking on a national power at their home court — first against Duke, then against UCLA.

But those games — which the major conference teams usually pay the opposing school to schedule — are becoming less common among true mid-majors.

“We definitely think it’s not in our teams’ best interest to go to Maryland for the money,” Elgin said.

Instead, he is pushing for other strong mid-major teams from similar conferences to trade home games, in the hopes that some of those contests will have a national appeal. And ideally, teams would like to get on national television more than once.

“It’s repeated appearances that make that impact,” said Eric Wright, a vice president with Joyce Julius and Associates, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that analyzes the impact of sports sponsorships. “If you get two, three or four appearances in a season, you’re talking about some major appearance impact for the university.”

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