The issue of sports programming moving from free ( or basic cable) to pay TV nets has hit close to home for House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Dingell has asked the Big Ten conference for information after “numerous constituents” contacted him to complain that none of the the cable systems in Michigan are carrying the new Big Ten Network, home to some of the games of the University of Michigan Wolverines (and the Ohio Buckeyes), among others.
While saying that he has “no opinion” on the Big Ten Conference’s business plan, he wants the league to tell him the status of any cable negotiations involving Big Ten home markets, who those cable operators are, whether they expect to have deals in place by kickoff time, how the Big Ten arrived at a reported $1.10 per household rate, how many U of M games or other Big Ten games will be available to free TV or basic cable, and how much of the expected $237 million the new network will make for the conference schools is being used for academic programs, research or aid to non-athletes.
“With the exception of Northwestern University, all of the Big Ten Conference schools are public institutions, funded largely by the taxpayers of the states where they are located,” Dingell wrote to James Delany, Commissioner of the conference Monday. “Taxpayers have funded the stadiums where the games are played; the buses and planes that transport the players; the salaries of the coaches and trainers; and the scholarships of the athletes.
“The free broadcasts of football and basketball games might not make the most money for the conference, but they enable the taxpayer the ability to enjoy what their money has provided,” he said. “College sports provide a touchstone, not only for a school or alumni group, but also for an entire state and have become, over the years, a public good and part of our common culture.”