At 8 p.m. Monday, when viewers turned on ESPN to watch Kansas University’s basketball team take on Texas A&M;, they had no choice but to watch the conclusion of the game between Connecticut and Villanova.
Each Monday, a 6 p.m. Big East game precedes an 8 p.m. Big 12 battle as part of ESPN’s Big Monday lineup.
After Connecticut knocked off No. 3 Villanova, the KU-A&M; game didn’t reach a national TV audience until 8:17 p.m., when 13:52 remained in the first half and the Aggies led, 12-10.
Big 12 senior associate commissioner Tim Allen said he understood the point of view of frustrated fans who missed the first 6:08, but he suggested the scenario was as unavoidable as undesirable.
“Do we want them to get to our games on time? Absolutely,” said Allen, who oversees the league’s scheduling. “Do we have games in other windows where (a Big 12) game runs long and cuts into games of other conferences? Absolutely. Do we like that scenario, and do other conferences like that scenario? The answer is no, but there’s other things that play into the TV schedule as well.”
In the case of Big Monday, the primary factor is “SportsCenter.” It’s easy to suggest starting the Big East game earlier, or tipping off the Big 12 game later. Only problem is, “SportsCenter” airs 5-6 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. Considering the popularity of the show — more than 30,000 episodes have aired since 1979 — it seems unlikely the schedule will change.
“There are a lot of factors to consider. Not every game goes long,” ESPN spokesperson Mike Humes said. “And it’s not just us saying we want the game to start at X time. It’s the schools. It’s the conferences. It’s not just ESPN saying, ‘We’re going to televise the game (at 6 and 8 p.m. for Big Monday).’”
The Big 12 and ESPN are in the second year of an eight-year contract for Big Monday.
In the event of a blowout, ESPN will switch from the Big East game to the Big 12 game in the local market of the two Big 12 teams. That wasn’t possible Monday, however, since the Big East game was still a two-possession game with 1:15 left.
The Big 12 isn’t the only conference on the back end of back-to-back scheduling. For instance, an SEC hoops game will follow a Big Ten game as part of ESPN’s Super Tuesday lineup at 6 and 8 p.m.
“It’s just the nature of the business,” Allen said. “We’d all like basketball games wrapped in that neat little package. This is not a new occurrence. Games from a tough, physical league (Big East) are going to take longer than a finesse league (Big 12) because there’s more fouling and more stoppage time.”
Allen estimated of the six Big Monday games this season, about four Big 12 games reached the TV audience late. ESPN has the option each Monday of delaying the start of the Big 12 game by five minutes if it thinks the Big East game could go late, but that decision must be made an hour before the late game tips off.
There are alternatives for Big 12 fans.
ESPN displayed the option Monday, for instance, of watching the KU-A&M; game online on ESPN360.com in the closing minutes of the Big East game.
Airing the start of the KU-A&M; game on ESPN2 wouldn’t have worked Monday because a live Big 12 women’s game was taking place at that time. Allen said there had been discussions of moving the start of Big 12 games to ESPN Classic in the event of a late Big East game, but contractual commitments have prohibited that as an option.
“The thing we have to do a better job of with holding ESPN’s feet to the fire is switching to the next game in local markets (in the event of a blowout),” Allen said. “ESPN makes every effort to try to take the two home markets of the teams to their game. However, your definition of a blowout and the network’s may be different. The (UConn-Villanova) game got cut to two baskets (Monday), and that wasn’t big enough to take the game away.
“This is not a Big Monday deal, or a Big 12 deal. It happens with all of basketball.”
Kansas is scheduled to face Oklahoma on ESPN for the next Big Monday game at 8 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse.