With the Big Ten expanding to 12 teams next season and adding a championship game to its football schedule, the logistical challenges facing the conference as it plans its first football championship game ever have come into focus. Back in August, the conference announced that Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis would house the very first championship game, but made no plans past the first year. On Wednesday, the Big Ten made some considerably more stable plans for the television side of the title game, tabbing Fox Sports to carry the game for its first six iterations:
The Big Ten Conference has reached a media agreement with FOX Sports to serve as the official broadcast partner of the 2011-16 Big Ten Football Championship Games. The inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game will be played in prime time on December 3, 2011, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with the winner earning the Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.
This news isn't a total surprise, since Fox has been a 49% partner with the conference in the Big Ten Network, the hugely profitable television venture that has helped the conference earn more television revenue per school than any other conference, even the SEC; moreover, the disparity in revenue leaves conferences like the Big XII and Big East not only in the dust but in structural peril for that exact reason; the BXI successfully stole Nebraska from the Big XII and by all accounts could have had its choice of Big East teams if it had advanced any offers that way.
And yet, the last time a college football game has been televised on Fox itself*, it was January 5, 2010, and here's what the lingering vestige of that coverage ended up being:
That's Chris Myers asking an absolutely dippy question and getting an equally silly answer. Myers, like all Fox Sports personalities who covered BCS games that January, hadn't spent the entire season covering the teams or conferences in play (and neither did the rest of the announcers or producers, who instead spent the entire time staring at fans or trying to compare the games to other sports), so it's natural that he would ask Ricky Stanzi a for-the-sake-of-politeness "evergreen" question like that, but here's the thing: the vast majority of viewers still tuned in at that point had, in fact, spent the entire season watching Big Ten (or at the very least ACC) football. Myers' line of questioning was a dog whistle to a group of viewers (namely, those completely unfamiliar to Big Ten football) that had already tuned out of the game, basically, and that makes for bad television.
That's why it would be enormously smart of Fox and the Big Ten to appoint Big Ten Network staff to call the championship game rather than Joe Buck or whatever random announcer that's on the Fox payroll and hasn't been calling BXI games all season long. Familiarity's important, especially when the announcer's has to at least approximate the average viewer's, and one of the main complaints about Fox's coverage of BCS bowls over the years has been the fact that the announcers have basically a passing familiarity with the men on the field. The Big Ten can't really subject its tens of millions of fans to that grating superficiality for the next six years, can it?
*Fox's network of regional stations televises a LOT of college football games per week, of course, and is a prominent source of television revenue for the Big 12. Ask the Big 12 how well that's gone for them.