Arrogance For No Good Reason

Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated, one of the last bastions of American sports media even remotely paying attention to the NHL, decided to snoop around a little bit about the Versus/DirecTV dispute that’s just starting to get noticed.

Muir’s article doesn’t show you too much more than I brought to light here just the other day but it does bring us the beauty of showing the NHLs view on the matter, courtesy of NHL spokesman Frank Brown.

When asked Tuesday if the league was concerned enough to involve itself in the process, NHL spokesman Frank Brown simply pointed to the calender.

“Today is August 25. The next NHL telecast scheduled for VERSUS is Oct. 1,” he said.

Real nice, eh?

Yes, there’s a lot of time to go here and what will be really telling is whether or not this gets done before college football season begins for Versus since more people care about seeing their favorite college football team get their air time than they do about the NHL.

Muir does state in this write-up that it’s a game of big business “chicken” and Versus has a lot more to lose in this thing than does DirecTV so playing hardball with them won’t work.  It is a bit mystifying to see something aside from the company line from the NHL on this matter and I won’t lie, I’m eager to see what the NHL would do if Versus continues to hold the line and DirecTV tells them to go play in traffic.

Please let this happen, please let Gary be forced to intercede in this dispute and then botch it up even more.  I pray to you Big Baby Jesus to allow this to happen.

odbhomeboyPlease make it happen Big Baby Jesus.

Bettman’s Pet Project Wets The Bed

I was reading a link from the Los Angeles Times this weekend, you know, a newspaper – those things that used to be the staple of American media but have quickly become obscure thanks to the Internet.

This article talked about how there’s a fun dispute going on between DirecTV and the Versus Network in that Versus wants to charge the company more money to carry their programming and DirecTV doesn’t want to pass that buck along to their customers.

Since DirecTV doesn’t want to add any costs for their customer base and Versus, to this point, has been unwilling to move off their demands, DirecTV is going to drop Versus from their system on September 1st.  According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia (cough), this would mean 18 million DirecTV subscribers would not be able to see Versus.

If you’re a diminutive commissioner of a niche sport failing miserably to take advantage of the immense amount of talent in your league… This is not good news.

Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, said: “Versus’ overall ratings are poor and have not increased nearly enough to justify what we’re paying them, let alone the significant increase they’re asking for.

“It is a significant rate hike and the deal is discriminatory because Versus is not offering the same package options as other distributors.”

All right that sounds shady as hell, why would Versus play hard ball with DirecTV?

Versus is owned by Comcast, a cable carrier that competes with DirecTV. Versus responded in a statement released Friday that said it has added “many marquee properties” and has become “the fastest-growing sports cable network in the country.”

And there it is.

This is just a mega-corporate pissing match where Comcast is looking to bone over their competition by trying to juice them for more money.  This kind of arm wrestling between cable stations and companies is nothing new at all, just ask the NFL about how their network is doing dealing with Cablevision.

Then again, this turns out to bversuse really bad PR for the NHL when their hand-picked cable network of choice is booted off of DirecTV because DirecTV doesn’t want to cave into their demands and subsequently helps feed the anti-Bettman-esque sentiment from our media friends north of the border.  The anti-Bettman stuff I dig here guys, but saying that while a cable company thinking they’re wearing the daddy pants when they’re stuck in Garanimals is pretty short-sighted.

What this battle between Comcast/Versus and DirecTV points out is that Herr Bettman’s plan of leading the charge to help overthrow the Disney/ESPN sports programming empire is falling well short.  Hell, the reason the Los Angeles Times picked up the story about this struggle is because of the effect it has on broadcasts of Pac-10 college football, not coverage of the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings and Ducks are combining for ONE appearance on Versus for the entire 2009-2010 season (November 9th Los Angeles @ Chicago).  Apparently Versus wasn’t tuned into or turned on by Gary’s plan of NHL Non-Traditional Market Manifest Destiny.

One of the few things I gave credit to Bettman for after his “lockout to end all interest in the NHL” was insistence to stick it to ESPN for their snickering and boorish coverage of the lockout.  Problem there being that ESPN was already the only sports show in town worth bowing down to and it’s only gotten worse now.

What kills me here is Comcast/Versus’ company line for Versus being the “the fastest-growing sports cable network in the country.”  Well of course you’re the fastest growing sports cable network, you’re the only one that’s going on the “broad appeal” plan of attack and your only competition is the 50 metric ton gorilla named ESPN.  If you’re running a cable provider and you have the choice between filet mignon from the best restaurant in the city and week-old meat parts from butcher in the alley, the choice is pretty obvious.

Do I like what Versus is doing to try to broaden its appeal?  Sure.  Embracing the WEC and its mixed-martial arts fighting is amazingly a step in the right direction because it offers something gaining in popularity that ESPN doesn’t have.  Working out some kind of partnership with the UFC and their seeming monopoly on MMA would go a long way to helping the network, but I think Dana White and UFC can do whatever  the hell they want to and make bank at this point. Carrying college football is also a solid move but there’s got to be more than just these things to go around. The NHL is the jewel of their network and right now the NHL doesn’t have the swagger to make things happen business-wise.

Versus, for the time being, has to be content with just being the niche sports network and it this economy, Versus doesn’t have the kind of programming nor the following to be able to boss anyone around, never mind the kings of satellite broadcasting at DirecTV.

If Comcast thinks that this is the right time and the right way to pick a fight with DirecTV by using Versus as their bargaining chip then that’s not going to turn out well for Comcast or DirecTV subscribers that actually want Versus, all the while the NHL is at the mercy of Comcast to get this figured out somehow.  While Comcast doesn’t exactly lose out all that hard in this battle (they do have other rather successful networks in E! Entertainment Tengblomelevision and G4) Versus is their sports programming horse and keeping it sight unseen by up to 18 million people does them no favors.

That said, getting that monthly fee from each of those subscribers would certainly help Comcast to pay for more hair care products for Brian Engblom and to make sure that the Versus crews can travel further west than St. Paul, Minnesota more than a few times in a given season or even travel to Canada sometimes.  I hear they like hockey up there.

It’s all too amusing to see that Gary’s pet project to make Versus the new overlords of cable now somewhat hangs in the balance, at least for this season. I wonder what kind of face he’s making while he has almost no control over this…



Now let’s see if Gary has any stroke to help put this mess to bed, but considering even Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell don’t have the ability to help smooth things out with the NFL Network issues with certain cable providers, I’m not going in the with the highest of expectations for Lil’ Gary to help out this situation with Versus.

The Dawn of a New Era

This is a day I’ve long been waiting for.

Those of you who were kind enough to follow me at my now former home I am thankful to have you here with me now because that means you’re the best kind of reader – you’re the kind of reader that clicks any and all links that I throw at you and you’re happy to soak in the little slice of hockey insanity that I cook up here.

I know this summer has been busy, what with the Chicago Blackhawks not spending money like a drunken 20 year-old right wing and having their drunken right wing get into bitch fight with a cabbie that didn’t even have a valid drivers license.  I get it that there’s been a fair amount of news and that I’ve been seemingly asleep at the wheel for a good chunk of it.

What you’re looking at RIGHT NOW is why this summer has been a bit off from yours truly.

Welcome to the new sanitarium where Herr Bettman and his Board of Governors cronies come to be mocked.  If you’re new here, I welcome you warmly and with beer because as Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  You better believe we’re going to be happy around here – I’m freaking giddy right now having this new site and new domain to kick around and call “home” now and I’ll enjoy having you all along for the ride while we make fun of Gary for having a serious Napoleon Complex and finding other ways to enjoy the incredible sport of hockey be it in the NHL or the NCAA.

Being that this is a new place, there’s going to be some bumps around here and little things that I’ve yet to figure you and if you spot them, don’t hesitate to drop me an e-mail so I can get it sorted out.  Speaking of folks that helped me get started here, let me take a moment to thank Shaun Breen from Major League Wiffleball for his patience and his time in dealing with my numerous e-mail questions on getting things going here.  Let me also thank Carlene Godfrey and to Tapeleg at Jerseys and Hockey Love for helping me work out a couple of other kinks so I could get things looking great here.

Buckle up kids, training camp starts in just a few weeks.

Inexcusable: CCHA Votes Down Alabama-Huntsville

Today saw news that should make college hockey fans across America and parts elsewhere really upset:

CCHA Denies Alabama-Huntsville for Conference Admission

The CCHA has denied Alabama-Huntsville’s application for admission, putting the program’s future in even more jeopardy.

The Chargers are members of the CHA, which is set to disband after the 2009-10 season. The three other members have found other conferences, and UAH targeted the CCHA.

But the CCHA Council, a body made up of athletic administrators and faculty athletic representatives, on Tuesday voted by acclamation to deny UAH’s application for membership.

Well isn’t that nice.

The CHA is disbanding because the other three members of the conference have found more convenient homes for the 2010-2011 season. Bemidji State, an enjoyed program of this blog, is moving to the WCHA with soon-to-be former CCHA patron Nebraska-Omaha. Robert Morris University and Niagara University of the lame-duck CHA will move along to the alive-yet-weak Atlantic Hockey Association.

This situation left Alabama-Huntsville on the outside looking in. Given that they’re the only college hockey program located in the deep south, their program is one that has always raised eyebrows with casual observers of college hockey.

Hell, even long time college fans weren’t always aware of the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers – that is until 2007 when the bottom-seeded Chargers took top seeded Notre Dame to double-overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before ultimately falling to the Fighting Irish 3-2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Coincidentally enough, it was the same Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids that saw soon-to-be former CHA mates Bemidji State upset Notre Dame and Cornell just this past year in the NCAA Tournament earning them their first Frozen Four appearance as well as the acceptance of the WCHA to join their “exclusive” club of teams.

Fate is one cruel bitch.

“Et tu… All of you?!”

What’s fun about this announcement is that the CCHA decided to vote by acclimation so that no one school has to take the heat from the rest of the college hockey loving world for basically sending Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program out to pasture.

Yes, that’s right, their hockey program is in a very bad spot right now. Other conferences that could have had UAH join up with them have already filled their ranks. That’s not to say that the WCHA was even a possible destination for the Chargers, but at least they were one of the conferences looking to expand.

Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA were it as far as geographic common sense and flexibility go. Atlantic Hockey made their move by bringing aboard the two logical CHA squads in Robert Morris (Pittsburgh, PA) and Niagara (near Buffalo, NY). Both the ECAC and Hockey East are much too far out of the way in the northeast and are set with their number of teams.

UAH is now looking at life, once again, as an independent team. They spent their first year back in Division I hockey as an independent in 1998-1999 but then joined the CHA after that. Previous to that, they were a Division II team for six seasons and a damn good one winning two Division II championships, thus making their jump back to Division I (after spending five years there from 1987-1992 as independents) one that made a world of sense.

Now? Limbo awaits the Chargers. Life as an independent team in Division I hockey is one that doesn’t lend itself well to any kind of success, be it on the ice or financially. Having no conference affiliation means there’s no conference tournament to play in and win a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Having life as an independent should, ideally, mean that scheduling gets to be easier as you can pick and choose from any of the other 58 D-I schools. Problem with that is, everyone else is playing in a conference and subject to their own conference schedule dominating their weekly lives and having to live by the scraps of open dates the schedule allows to make games with other schools.

D-I football is perhaps the best high profile way we can look at how UAH may have to handle their new lives, should they choose to keep it up. In the past, there had always been a rather large handful of teams amongst the Independent ranks in college football.

Now there are three: Notre Dame, Army and Navy. What these three teams have in common is playing against each other as well as a hearty mix of cream puffs and menacing world beaters. Hell, even Army football gets a game against VMI each year so they’re guaranteed to not go winless.

Obviously Notre Dame sticks out here as the “shining example” of how to be a successful independent program. Then again, Notre Dame football is a beast unto itself having NBC carrying all their home games and a ridiculous legacy that is eternally fellated whether the team is any good or not.

Alabama-Huntsville hockey won’t exactly have any of these luxuries. There is no lucrative television contract to give the school money nor are there well-placed media pundits out there to proclaim the wonder and glory of Chargers hockey. It’s just how it is but the future is certainly very bleak for the sole Division I hockey program in the deep south.

For what it’s worth, the 2012 Frozen Four being held in Tampa, Florida is set to be hosted by none other than the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Given that this location has already been beset by bad press, most of which centered around the owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning bailing out of a college hockey tournament set to be hosted in Tampa last year, Alabama-Huntsville having their program potentially folding before the Frozen Four even arrives in Florida would be a tremendous black eye on college hockey.

For now though, UAH hangs on while the CCHA will have to take their much-deserved lumps for leaving a program out in the cold with little to no explanation:

“The league completed its due diligence of the application for membership submitted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville with careful consideration and discussion of various issues,” CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said in a news release. “At this time we have chosen to maintain our membership at its current level.

“The CCHA will remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members to ensure the conference’s continued success and long-term viability.”

There’s a lot of buzzwords in there but what this boils down to for the CCHA is that they’re playing wait-and-see, which in this case, amounts to a game of chicken where they’re not risking a damn thing for themselves.

At stake here instantly is the future of Alabama-Huntsville hockey but there are some other things that come into play here. Whether it’s the imminent failure of another of its member teams in Bowling Green or the rise of a program out of the club ranks with a huge name to lend further credibility to both the CCHA and college hockey will remain to be seen.

If the CCHA has the ability to see the future and those situations do arise, I am sure they can also handle the responsibility of having the blood of potentially two (or maybe more) programs on their hands while allowing college hockey to become an even less-relevant niche sport on the collegiate landscape.

A year from now we could be just laughing at all of this as an incredible overreaction when the CCHA votes to allow UAH to join up with them after Bowling Green and other struggling CCHA members all find ways to prove their commitments to college hockey for the future and its all fun and games.

Then again, a year from now we could be looking at this vote to exclude UAH from the CCHAs reindeer games as the first domino to fall in what could prove to be a herd-thinning situation in college hockey.