Tonight, the Virginia Cavaliers are playing in a huge game. It’s not just huge because it’s an ACC game, or because it’s against Virginia Tech, or just because it’s a ranked No. 4 vs. No. 9 matchup. It’s a huge game because it’s a ranked-ranked matchup at home against a rival that has ACC implications.
But it isn’t going to be broadcast nationally.
Virginia-Virginia Tech being on the ACC Network Extra tonight should be against the law.— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 15, 2019
Raycom is carrying the game—which tips at 8pm—meaning it will air on Regional Sports Networks and stream online via ACC Network Extra.
ESPN will carry No. 12 Kentucky at Georgia at 7pm, followed by Notre Dame at No. 13 North Carolina. ESPN2 has Arkansas at No. 3 Tennessee in the early slot before switching to Australian Open coverage. The U has Big 12 and A10 action. But this big game not being on ESPN/2 isn’t a slight to the Hoos and Hokies. It’s just the way it works sometimes.
Unlike college football, the basketball television schedule is worked out over the summer months. When it’s released, stations and game times are locked in (minus a time slot here or there). Whether we like it or not, not every game can be on ESPN. It’s like a huge, multi-faceted puzzle with different shaped and sized pieces. Networks have to be cognizant of balancing out coverage of different conferences. Raycom, Fox, and CBS all play a role.
Fourteen of Virginia’s 30 regular season games have aired or will air on ESPN/2/U. One—Virginia’s trip to Notre Dame—will be on CBS, while another—Virginia’s win at South Carolina—was on the SEC Network. For comparison, North Carolina has 19 on the ESPN family of networks. Duke, and future No. 1 pick Zion Williamson, have a remarkable 28. Virginia Tech—surprisingly—has 16, while Louisville has just 13.
Timing is always an issue (the Australian Open certainly doesn’t help tonight), but Virginia’s less-than-exciting non-conference didn’t help those overall numbers. Meanwhile, Duke (vs. Kentucky, vs. Indiana), Virginia Tech (vs. Washington), and North Carolina (vs. Gonzaga, vs. Kentucky) all had more “interesting” non-con matchups that got national billing.
Although tonight’s game is going to be huge, Saturday’s game between Virginia and No. 1 Duke is inarguably bigger and will be on ESPN (and featured on GameDay). Like it or not, the Hoos-Hokies rivalry isn’t yet a must-see in terms of general interest. It’s a little surprising that this Virginia-VT matchup (which was predicted to be ranked-ranked based on preseason rankings) isn’t a national game, but the first AP Poll comes out well after these schedules were created.
The addition of the ACC Network will further complicate things, or at least pose some of the same problems as what’s already happening with RSNs. One major difference is that the ACC Network likely won’t be blacked out streaming as things are now with the current set up in local markets.
I’m old enough to remember when you couldn’t watch every Virginia basketball game, so I’ll take it wherever we can watch.