Calder Silcox | Time to televise the Ivies

· February 13, 2012, 9:39 pm   ·  Updated February 14, 2012, 11:21 pm

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Megan Falls | DP

Penn’s student section cheers against Princeton Jan. 30. For the first time in at least 10 years, Palestra attendance was over 6,800 for three straight games, a clear mark of the growing importance of men’s hoops in the Penn community.



Calder Silcox
Senior Sports Writer

If Penn basketball falls to Harvard at the Palestra, and no one watches it on TV, does it make a sound?

What if there are nearly 8,000 screaming Quakers there, too?

No? Still nothing?

On Friday night, the Quakers hosted the Crimson in what was one of the biggest Ivy hoops games in recent memory. Trouble was, if you weren’t there, you likely didn’t see it, and that’s a shame.

The game was broadcast only through the university’s web-subscription service, Penn Sports Network — at a cost of $7.95 a month, or $59.95 for a season (better than the nine bucks I paid to watch Penn at Yale last weekend). The audio was also broadcast on ESPN 950, but I have neither a transistor radio, nor any desire to listen to basketball on one — no offense to Penn’s great broadcasting crew.

Meanwhile, on Friday night, the ESPN family was broadcasting high-school basketball, Iona against Loyola (Md.) in a thrilling MAAC showdown (What’s that stand for? My point exactly) and the Horizon League’s Milwaukee against Detroit. Yawn.

But that’s the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Why would they broadcast the little old Ivy League? NBC Sports, the network formerly known as Versus, is slowly making its play at competing with the boys from Bristol. Friday it aired Boston College against Vermont, in men’s hockey, and CBS Sports had some college puck as well.

I’m not delusional. I know this isn’t Kentucky or Duke, and Ivy games will never draw a fraction of the interest of the SEC or ACC. But surely, an important Ivy game pulls more than North Dakota against Minnesota-Duluth ice hockey.

And although Princeton-Harvard was broadcast on online on WatchESPN and on the air on ESPNU, it’s a shame the Ivy League can’t get its best product shown on a larger stage. That responsibility falls mainly on the league office.

Since Executive Director Robin Harris took control of the Ancient Eight in 2009, she has placed television as one of the league’s priorities.

In a timely and extremely thorough article last Friday, Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald took a look at Ivy TV prospects.

According to the article, until last school year, each institution controlled its own broadcast rights. However, “the eight athletic directors agreed to give Harris and her staff a stronger remit to go out and find a national broadcast outlet,” Tannenwald wrote.

Ivy basketball, despite questions of the quality of the league, remains a valuable entity if only because the teams play on Friday nights, when the major conferences rest. And the questions about the quality of Ivy hoops are slowly being negated.

Twice in the last three years the league has featured Top-25 teams. The conference’s RPI this season has risen to 13th nationally, higher than the Colonial Athletic Association, the Horizon League and even the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (or MAAC, in case you were still wondering). This season’s Ivy League as a whole is the best it has been since Penn went to the Final Four in 1979.

The league worked out a deal for football with Versus, which included two Penn games broadcast last season. A contract for basketball, though, is still nonexistent. According to Tannenwald, Harris aims to have a national television deal ready for next season.

Just yesterday, the CAA — home to our neighbors Drexel and Delaware — inked a five-year deal with NBC Sports to air 12 basketball games and five football games each season, in addition to 39 regional men’s and women’s games on the network’s other properties, including Comcast SportsNet.

When was the last time Penn basketball played before a crowd of more than 6,800 fans at the Palestra for three consecutive Penn games?

Not in my career. Not even in the last decade.

When was the last time Harvard basketball sold out its gym for an entire season?

That’s a rhetorical question.

It’s time for the league to strike a deal while the iron is hot.

CALDER SILCOX is a senior science, technology and society major from Washington, D.C., and is a former Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.

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