With West Virginia’s basketball team preparing to play a pair of teams ranked in the Top 3 nationally this week, one powerful Mountaineer fan voiced her concerns about the ability of fellow WVU fans to watch either game.
The matter actually at hand was a Senate subcommittee hearing featuring NCAA president Mark Emmert and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby about creating rules that will allow college athletes to benefit financially from use of their name, image and likeness.
But with Bowlsby in the room, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) took the opportunity to ask about a matter of concern to her constituency — the Big 12 Now streaming service on ESPN-Plus.
WVU’s Wednesday night game with No. 3 Kansas and Saturday afternoon game at No. 1 Baylor will both be streamed on the service rather than broadcast via traditional cable outlets.
Capito voiced her displeasure with Big 12 Now due to the challenges of some rural West Virginians in finding a proper broadband connection for high-speed internet.
“I’m going to diverge a little bit from the chairman telling to stay strictly on message because I have commissioner Bowlsby here and I wanted to ask a question,” Capito said. “You recently signed a Big 12 deal to stream on ESPN-Plus.
“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, as he has in far less official settings, explained the Big 12’s position on the public record.
“I’ve had the opportunity to respond to this question previously,” Bowlsby began. “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 rollout 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 rollouts. 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.”
Capito concluded the questioning by stating, “Maybe it’s a little before its time, but it’s a source of irritation to us. I’m sure you understand that.”
Right now, @WVUhoops fans will only be able to watch WVU vs. Kansas and WVU vs. Baylor on ESPN+ (if they pay the monthly subscription and if they have the ability to stream). Today, I asked @Big12Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby about this, given our state’s connectivity: pic.twitter.com/bfMzfMW2NE
— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) February 11, 2020