MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you had trouble viewing West Virginia’s 29-24 win at Kansas, Bob Huggins can relate.
“I tried to watch the football game,” Huggins noted earlier this week, indicating his success with the matter left a bit to be desired.
The game was the first to be telecast on ESPN’s online-only Big 12 Now streaming service. West Virginia fans were already grumbling about having to shell out $5 to watch the game. The complaints only intensified after the fact.
For many, the herky-jerky viewing experience became a far bigger talking point than anything that actually happened on the field – provided they actually saw it.
Huggins wasn’t exactly in a Wi-Fi hotspot, retreating to his secluded cabin lair for one last getaway before the start of basketball practice. But for many West Virginians, that’s just everyday life.
Like it or not — and judging by my inbox, it’s a pretty one-sided battle – Big 12 Now isn’t going anywhere. The league is fully behind the venture, notably placing both WVU basketball games against Kansas on the service this winter.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a better option available for creating a Big 12-branded network.
The presence of the Longhorn Network led to the original reshuffling of the league when Nebraska didn’t want to take a backseat to anyone and jumped to the Big Ten. It remains a hurdle for the commercial viability of a true Big 12 Network.
But in remaining the only conference without its own traditional television network, the Big 12 may actually be ahead of the long-term curve.
The Pac-12 Network was created in 2012, but its actual distribution within the Pac-12 footprint remains a running joke. The ACC Network is also waging a battle to make its way onto cable and satellite providers, and is apparently desperate enough about the matter to pay for a daily digital billboard in Morgantown advertising the fact fans might miss Pitt football games if they don’t get it. (Miraculously, the billboard has thus far escaped vandalism.)
If WVU games were buried on a television network that no one was able to access locally, the uproar would likely dwarf the anger currently being felt about Big 12 Now.
On top of that, people in their 20s and 30s are cutting the cord en masse. Streaming is becoming their norm over traditional viewing.
“Right now there’s a difference between being on it and CBS,” Huggins said. “But will it be that way in three years?”
That’s not to say there aren’t major kinks to be worked out. The lack of a visible first-down line, for example, gave last week’s broadcast a high school feel. Viewers paying for a premium service deserve to be treated like it.
For now, WVU fans just have to hope that this brand-new product improves as it evolves. Luckily there’s good reason to believe it will – as a subscription service, ESPN and the Big 12 are obligated to put forth a quality product. If they don’t, they’ll be sending a lot more than a $5 investment down the drain.
“Like anything else, it will take some time to figure out the best way to do things,” Huggins said. “They say it’s the wave of the future. I’m not involved in it so I don’t know. The people in the league are excited and very much behind it. They’ve studied it. I’m sure they are guiding us in the right direction.”