Mocs opener may be start of more TV games

Mocs opener may be start of more TV games

August 26th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

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In just a couple of days the No. 25 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team will open its season at Finley Stadium.

The game against UT-Martin will be the 2013 Mocs' debut and it will also be an experiment in game coverage. UTC, the university and the athletic department, have pitched in about $8,000 each to produce and broadcast the game on Comcast Sports South. The Southern Conference has also pitched in some money to help pay for the production.

The SoCon's broadcast package remains ESPN3.com only, but commissioner John Iamarino said schools are encouraged to put together their own productions. The league, which has a lot of money coming in from school exit fees, will pay a set amount to each school.

"It was the suggestion of the athletic directors at a meeting we had in May to kind of help out and encourage programs to televise and pick-up games on their schedule that were not part of our package," Iamarino said. "We kind of created a small sub-grant that we're making available to any schools that would pick up the production of a football game."

The Mocs-Skyhawks game will be broadcast, in high definition, live (kickoff at 7:30 p.m) throughout CSS' 12-state footprint in the Southeast. It will be rebroadcast at noon Saturday.

Mocs athletic director David Blackburn said UTC's game against Western Carolina on Oct. 5 at Finley also will be televised, with the Catamounts picking up the tab. The Mocs also have ESPN3.com games against Georgia State, Furman, Wofford and Samford, as well as a regular-season finale at Alabama that will be shown on an SEC-related channel.

"Any time you're on TV it's a good thing," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said after Sunday's practice. "Obviously the publicity you get is huge. It's a pretty good deal because if you lose some fans [in attendance] the exposure you get probably outweighs that."

UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said "we certainly appreciate it," when asked about UTC producing the opener. It's a guarantee that all of the Mocs' and Skyhawks' recruits will be encouraged to watch the game if that can't make it to the stadium.

It will be a regular game broadcast, but there will be minimal commercials during timeouts. Instead, UTC will use the breaks to talk about UTC, with local sports anchor Keith Cawley conducting brief interviews with campus officials.

Blackburn said UTC should cover its costs financially on the game, but that's just dollars and doesn't take into account the value of around three straight hours of UTC-related content coming from Finley Stadium on a night with a light college football schedule.

"Given the league subsidy and what we're left with, I'd say we'll probably break even," he said. "It's a perfect spot for us [with the free replay] because we're basically getting 2-for-1."

Iamarino said The Citadel and Furman have explored producing their own broadcasts, as well. He said the league continues to look at financially-responsible ways to get games on regular television.

Helping schools subsidize productions, he said, is "something we have not done in the past and we think it already has borne some fruit."

One thing that could work in the SoCon's favor, and the favor of other mid-major conferences in the Southeast, is the 2014 debut of the SEC Network. When college football's most popular league has it's own 24-hour network, channels like CSS and Fox Sports South may lose a good amount of their programming. And that could open the door for affordable agreements with conferences like the SoCon.

"It definitely can work in our favor," Iamarino said, "and we've had ongoing conversations with the folks at CSS. We think that they may be somebody that we want to continue to talk to in the future."

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.