CHAMPAIGN — The options are bountiful every Saturday.
Finding a college football game that isn’t televised these days is basically harder to find than ones that are it seems.
Except some who want to watch Illinois-Virginia on Saturday morning may have trouble locating the exact channel to watch Bret Bielema’s first road game in charge of the Illini.
Thanks, ACC Network. The two-year-old network devoted to all items related to the 14-team league isn’t particularly easy to find for those living in east central Illinois.
First, the bad news. If you subscribe to Xfinity, you’re out of luck. The cable company does not have the ACC Network among its plethora of channels. No matter how much you channel surf, complain to your significant other or want to throw the remote at your TV before Saturday’s 10 a.m. kickoff in Charlottesville, Va., it won’t help.
Don’t vent to the Illinois athletic department, either. When this game against Virginia was first agreed to in 2013, the ACC Network didn’t exist.
Plus, the home team’s conference controls the TV rights to the games. For Illinois and the Big Ten, that means partnerships with Fox, ESPN and BTN.
When the Illini and Cavaliers meet on Sept. 10, 2022, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, it should be easier to find the game on TV in this area.
“In each of those contracts, it’s spelled out who gets to choose the order and what time slots,” said Kent Brown, the Illini’s associate athletic director for media relations. “With the Virginia game, the rights are owned by the ACC. They, just like the Big Ten, have agreements with multiple networks, with the ACC Network being one of those. That’s how we got assigned to that network.”
Now, some good news. If you subscribe to this lengthy list of TV providers — AT&T TV, AT&T Now, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, fuboTV, Hulu Live TV, Optimum, Sling TV, Spectrum TV, Suddenlink, TVision, Verizon Fios, Vidgo and YouTube TV — then you can watch Illinois-Virginia on Saturday.
All those providers carry the ACC Network.
And, more good news since watching sports these days is different then even five years ago. Streaming options exist in multiple ways. Which is a route you can go if you want to get the ACC Network, with YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, fuboTV and Sling as streaming services. All those platforms have free trials.
True, these varied options may overwhelm one who is used to just turning on the TV right before the Illini kick off and settling in to watch the game.
For this Illini game, some more advance planning may be required.
“I do think it is easier to find games these days, but the number of outlets that carry games is more complicated than when it was just on ABC, CBS, ESPN or Fox,” Brown said. “There are many more options, and certainly, that’s not going to go away as conferences continue to have their own networks.”
The Big Ten was at the forefront of conferences having their own TV networks. Former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany provided a vision for the future when BTN launched in 2007, with other leagues — the Pac-12 Network started in 2012 and the SEC Network followed in 2014 — scrambling to catch up.
But BTN had distribution issues at the start that hurt its image in the eyes of consumers. Similar to some choice words viewers in these parts may have on Saturday when they wonder where the ACC Network is on their TV.
Even if Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman pounded the table for his football program or voiced numerous complaints to get Illinois games at marquee time slots on easy-to-find channels, it likely wouldn’t have much of an effect.
“The schools have very little say in that,” Brown said. “There’s a selection order that maybe one week Fox gets the first pick and the next week, ESPN gets the first pick. BTN is slotted in there, too. The value of those contracts are parlayed into better picks. The schools rarely get a chance and have all basically agreed to give their rights to the conference office for the highest value. The conference wants to put on the most compelling games and ones that drive the value of the league.”
Brown has been at Illinois since 2000 in his current role. He’s witnessed the way college football broadcasts have changed dramatically in the ensuing two decades.
“There are many of us who grew up on three networks before cable,” Brown said. “As cable came along, there were a lot more options. Then, regional sports networks came along. I think the education of the general public on how to find those continues to be a big part of it any time there’s a network launch. Most people have been able to find these new networks, but when they’re out of your region, it’s not as simple.”
Now, having read all of this and gotten to this point in the column, here’s one lasting thought: Our beat writer, Scott Richey, will be in Charlottesville, Va., for Saturday’s game at Scott Stadium. Follow him on Twitter (@srrichey) for updates during the game, read his in-game report at IlliniHQ.com throughout Saturday’s game and then devour all of his coverage in Sunday’s News-Gazette, both in print and online.
It’ll be easier than trying to find the ACC Network.