- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Big Ten Conference yesterday announced it will partner with Fox to start a national television network showing sports events and academic programs related to the conference.

The Big Ten Channel would be the first national channel devoted to a conference and allow fans to catch broadcasts of games not already shown nationally on ABC and ESPN.

“Fox has a proven and impressive track record of launching and managing networks,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. “That, coupled with our compelling athletic competition, will make this channel the go-to destination for our alumni and fans across the nation.”

The network, to debut in August 2007, will offer at least 35 football games and more than 105 men’s basketball games and 55 women’s basketball games. More than 600 hours of programming will be set aside for academic-related content from Big Ten universities.

With the deal, the Big Ten will be the second conference to have its own network and the first to have a majority ownership. In April, the Mountain West Conference announced a deal with CSTV to form The Mtn., a regional sports channel available in the west.

News of the network’s creation was coupled yesterday with the announcement of a new 10-year deal with ABC and ESPN to show Big Ten games, including more than 40 football games and 60 men’s basketball games.

“I think there’s something to be said for long-term partnerships,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, which has aired Big Ten games since 1966. “I really view our partnership with the Big Ten as frankly one of our most cherished.”

The Big Ten Channel has a deal with DirecTV to be shown on its basic tier package and is working to get wider distribution. Officials said they will push for other distributors to offer the channel on their basic tier packages, but that could be a tough sell because cable companies and satellite providers have balked at the price of sports channels.

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