While nervously watching the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team play Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament championship game last Monday, UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron was busy typing on her phone.
Herron said she was sending text messages to her parents, who live in Rising Fawn, Ga. They don't have Internet, they can't pick up UTC's radio broadcast on 105.1 FM and the title game wasn't on television.
While the SoCon men's title game was televised on ESPN2, the women were on ESPN3.com only.
"We've struggled with finding what direction we want to go" with showing SoCon sporting events, Herron said. "We tried the public stations and we're on the Internet. I was personally disappointed that our women's championship game wasn't televised.
"My parents ... I'm sitting there texting them the score updates."
Last May the SoCon announced that it had expanded its deal with ESPN to show events on ESPN3.com. There are two years left on that agreement, which guaranteed that a minimum of 40 SoCon events, from a range of sports, will be shown there each year.
SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said ESPN3.com has been good for the league, but he also recognizes that it's not the same as having SoCon teams playing on broadcast television. He said he has scheduled a meeting with ESPN representatives during the men's Final Four in Atlanta.
"We've got two years left on our agreement, but clearly we would like to do more," he said.
While the SoCon is almost exclusively on ESPN3.com, other mid-major leagues get a little to a lot more TV time. On March 4, the Big South announced a seven-year extension to its ESPN deal, which includes six events on ESPNU. The Colonial Athletic Association has a deal with NBC Sports and has games on TV regularly.
"You have to want to watch it," Lady Mocs coach Wes Moore said of being on ESPN3.com. "It's like me and the [Texas] Rangers, I have to take a cord and hook up my computer to my TV. I'm an avid fan so I do it. When I'm at home, I don't go on ESPN3 and see who's playing."
The Davidson men's basketball team beat the College of Charleston for the SoCon tournament title in a game shown on ESPN2. Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said conferences like the SoCon have to weigh the value of television exposure with the cost of cost of producing a game. It's a debate that has been going on for a long time, he said.
"If the network is willing to pay us for our games, it's a great thing," he said. "The reality is it gets very expensive, per game, for the Southern Conference to produce [a game and] shoot it to the network.
"From a recruiting standpoint, it's great to be able to tell a young man or young woman, hey, you're going to be on ESPN a couple of times the next few years. But at the same time, I don't think the casual observer flipping through the channels and stumbling on one of games for three minutes, I don't know that they're going to walk away a solid Davidson fan if they weren't one to begin with."
AD search resuming
UTC's search for a new athletic director, on hold since September, has resumed, Herron said. The 16-person search committee will meet on March 26, and it has been charged with narrowing the list of candidates to six to eight. Herron has been the interim AD since Rick Hart left for SMU in July.