Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
The start time for the Gophers season opener was revealed today, when the Big Ten Network released its schedule of primetime games.
The Aug. 29 opener -- a Thursday game -- against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium will kick off at 6 p.m. It's the only scheduled night game so far for the Gophers.
Here's a link to the full Big Ten Network announcement.
The Gophers, pigeonholed by television contracts into 11 a.m. kickoffs for the past two decades, figure to be assigned drastically fewer morning starts under the Big Ten's renegotiated agreement with ABC and ESPN -- and the effect is already kicking in.
Non-conference home games against New Mexico State on Sept. 10 and Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 17 will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and be televised by BTN (the Big Ten Network's new name); the Sept. 24 game with North Dakota State will start at 6 p.m., also on BTN; and ABC will carry Nebraska's first conference visit to Minnesota on Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m.
(The season-opener at USC will also kick off at 12:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles Coliseum, or 2:30 p.m. Central, on ABC.)
That means Minnesota knows that at least four of its seven home games this fall will kick off at 2:30 or later. The networks don't divvy up conference games until 7-10 days beforehand, but it's possible that Minnesota won't play a game before noon for the first time in more than a decade.
"Our member schools in the Central time zone have expressed their preference for later starts," said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner, who handles TV contracts. "I think there will be some measure of relief for them."
That's because, with Nebraska added to the Big Ten, the conference renegotiated its network contracts earlier this year. The new agreement eliminates the exclusive window that ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 enjoyed from 2:30-5:30 p.m. each Saturday, a blackout that prevented BTN from broadcasting a mid-afternoon game.
That restriction often forced Minnesota, infrequently chosen for the national broadcasts, into an 11 a.m. kickoff. The Gophers played three of their seven home games at that hour in 2010, plus two road games, and in 2009, TCF Bank Stadium's first season, five home games and seven Gopher games overall began before noon. Virtually no other conference routinely schedules morning kickoffs, but the Gophers have played at least three such games for the past five years.
BTN will continue to broadcast a game at 11 a.m. Central time each Saturday, and with the conference evenly split between members in the Eastern and Central time zones, it's unlikely that the early game will come from the Eastern zone, with a noon kickoff, every week. "We can't guarantee that (11 a.m. starts) will be eliminated," Rudner said. But allowing BTN to air games at 2:30 "should give us the flexibility to make those less frequent."
ABC and ESPN have has the pick of Big Ten games to televise each week, so the fact that the local ABC affiliate doesn't want a conference game this weekend, and ESPN chose Ohio State-Eastern Michigan for its main channel and Michigan-Bowling Green for ESPN2, tells you something about how uninspiring the roster of games is this weekend.
Blame it on the coaches, who universally want to schedule as sure a win as possible with Big Ten play opening next week. For eight Big Ten schools, that means bringing a Mid-American Conference opponent to town; two others are playing FCS-level opponents.
That means eight games have fallen into the Big Ten Network's lap this weekend, as heavy a workload as the network ever faces. The BTN will televise five games at once at 11 a.m., beaming each region its "local" game as best as it can. The good news for fans with satellite dishes (or in some cases, a cable provider with multiple extra channels for sports) is that they can watch any or all of those games. Think of it as the college football version of the NFL Ticket.
On DirecTV, for instance, Austin Peay at Wisconsin will air on the BTN's home channel, 610, but other games will be available on channels 609, 611, 612 and 615.
So what does this mean for the Gophers? Their 7:30 kickoff against Northern Illinois will air at the same time as Indiana-Akron, but it will be available throughout the Twin Cities area. Here's the network's list of places to find Saturday's Gopher game:
DirecTV: Ch. 609
Dish Network: Ch. 5400 (9501 HD)
AT&T U-Verse: Ch. 691 (1691 HD)
Verizon FiOS: Ch. 330
If you've got cable and aren't sure where to find the game, the BTN has a website to help. Go to www.bigtennetwork.com/gamefinder and enter your zip code for help finding the game on your local system.
For fans at TCF Bank Stadium, there will be ceremonies to celebrate the governor's declaration of Saturday as Bronko Nagurski Day. The family of the long-ago Gopher great, who died in 1990, will be there, as well as a life-size bobblehead, and the plow that legend has it Nagurski was using the day Minnesota coach Fats Spears discovered him in International Falls in 1927. Oh, and fireworks at halftime.
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