The People vs. ESPN

2011-11-22T16:34:00Z 2011-11-29T17:44:56Z The People vs. ESPNGreg Rachac The Billings Gazette

By now, everyone knows the scoop. The second-round FCS playoff games for Montana and Montana State will not be broadcast on TV. Anywhere. Period.

ESPN, the exclusive broadcast rights-holder for the NCAA Division I Football Championship, has decided to air first- and second-round games solely on its Internet channel, ESPN3.com. And that's bad news for folks in Montana.

ESPN3 is not available to Treasure State residents, unless their Internet provider is 3 Rivers Communications, which is headquartered in Fairfield (of all places). Range Telephone Cooperative and Triangle Communications also appear to be providers.

Either way, Cats and Griz fans a crying foul. Actualy, they're screaming it.

Fans have sent countless emails and made innumerable phone calls to ESPN, pleading with the network to make broadcast feeds available to local networks so the games can be seen on TV. Even U.S. Senator Jon Tester has chimed in.

Tester sent a letter to outgoing ESPN president George Bodenheimer on Tuesday, asking the network to reconsider it's broadcat plans.

Wrote Tester: "Please consider working with Montana broadcast stations or cable providers to make TV feeds of these FCS playoff games reasonably available to Montana fans. Airing these games in Montana will allow ESPN to be part of a time-honored pastime in the Treasure State."

Still, it's probably going to take more than pleading by fans or letters from politicians. Here's what Montana athletic director Jim O'Day told me yesterday:

"Under the contract ESPN has with the NCAA, they control the football championship. This year they opted to exercise their right to say, ‘We are not going to sell this off to a secondary market. We are going to control it with what we have to offer, and what we have to offer is our (ESPN3) Internet site.'

"It's not a very popular decision, especially here in Montana. We would love to have those games on TV. But unless somebody can get to ESPN and convince them to put it out on another format, I doubt very much it will be on TV anywhere."

The good news is that there are still 11 days before kickoff. So something could happen. If not, Cats and Griz fans might have a conniption.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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The Cat-Griz Insider blog is the one-stop spot on the Web for all the news and opinions pertaining to Montana Grizzly and Montana State Bobcat athletics. Comments are open!

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

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