Many of the Mid-American Conference’s top football teams avoid playing each other in the regular season, a scheduling misfortune that robs fans of main event-type entertainment.
Thus, this week’s I-75 rivalry, which features title contenders, is being viewed as a showpiece game around the league. But options are scarce for fans wanting to watch it: Make the trek to BG’s Doyt Perry Stadium or cross fingers one’s Internet provider carries ESPN3.
For the second straight season the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University will square off on a computer monitor instead of a TV screen, reducing the shine of a series that will celebrate its 78th installment on Saturday.
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This annual tilt, which was shown on TV every year from 2003 to 2011, appears to be going by the way of bank statements and moving online.
ESPN began de-emphasizing the rivalry once its games transitioned to Saturday from Wednesdays and Fridays where there were fewer programming options. This marks the third year in a row UT and BG will square off on a Saturday, and just one of the meetings, in 2011, appeared on TV. That game aired locally on 13 ABC — after ESPN bypassed broadcasting nationally.
“It’s a rival game and I am disappointed that it wasn’t picked up for an actual television broadcast,” BG athletic director Chris Kingston said. “At the same time I’m glad it’s able to be on ESPN3 where it can reach a number of our fans no matter where they are.”
BG (5-2, 3-0), which looks to score its first win over the Rockets since 2009, shares the MAC East lead with Buffalo. UT (4-3, 2-1) has work to do to pass league unbeatens Ball State and Northern Illinois in the West.
Only customers of Internet providers who pay fees to ESPN are granted access to ESPN3. Buckeye CableSystem customers will be good to go Saturday. So will subscribers of Time Warner, the preeminent Internet provider serving the Bowling Green area.
Per ESPN’s contract with the MAC, local and regional TV affiliates are prohibited from showing games ESPN selects for ESPN3. Therefore, the I-75 Rivalry is off limits to, say, BCSN in Toledo, or Fox Sports Ohio. In a twist that is sure to irk locals, BCSN2 will show a different MAC game — Buffalo at Kent State — using the feed produced by Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.
Among games ESPN chose for TV coverage over UT-BG are Houston at Rutgers (ESPNews), Duke at No. 14 Virginia Tech (ESPNU), and Wake Forest at No. 7 Miami (Fla) (ESPNU).
Since ESPN did not select the game for TV, BG was authorized to pick the start time. School officials settled on 2:30 p.m., believing the midday kick off is family friendly. A BG spokesperson said Wednesday the school has sold more than 15,000 tickets which includes an estimated student turnout thought to be conservative. Doyt Perry Stadium seats 24,000.
Two other MAC games — Miami at Ohio, and Western Michigan at Massachusetts — were chosen by ESPN to be aired on ESPN3.
“It would be nice to work out a deal so local and regional affiliates could carry the game,” Kingston said.
An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s programming decisions.
ESPN3, which originated in 2006 under the name ESPN360, covers a game similarly to ESPN’s TV channels. A production team and announcers will be on hand Saturday to produce the broadcast.