Civil War game blackout is outrageous

A pox on both their houses.

Thanks to a dispute between a government-franchised cable television provider and an organization representing taxpayer-funded state universities, the vast majority of Rogue Valley residents will be unable to watch the annual Civil War football game between Oregon and Oregon State.

This has been an ongoing issue throughout the fall, following the launch of the Pac-12 Network, which covers games not broadcast by the major networks. It was bad enough that coverage was not available for the Oregon-Tennessee Tech game or that the maybe-to-be-played Oregon State-Nicholls State game likely won't be on air locally, but now the composite greed of Charter and the Pac-12 Network is depriving Southern Oregonians of a contest that is arguably a cultural touchstone.

The Pac-12 Network is one of the many dubious outgrowths of the explosion in popularity of college sports, and especially college football. As with collegiate athletic leagues across the country, the Pac-12 Network was formed with one idea in mind: to make money for its member institutions.

The network controls the broadcasting rights to any Pac-12 games that are not aired on major networks. If cable companies like Charter or satellite companies like DirecTV want to air those games, they've got to pay the Pac-12 piper. Currently they have no deal; each of the parties says the other is being unreasonable in its financial demands or offerings.

The Pac-12 Network notes it does have a deal with Dish TV as well as with other cable companies across the country and asks, if those companies are willing to sign up, why isn't Charter? Charter says the Pac-12 Network is squeezing cable operations with unreasonable pricing for programming that not all of its viewers are interested in.

Caught in the middle are OSU and UO fans, some of whom have been watching this game on their TV sets for a half-century or more. Oregon has top-tier professional basketball and soccer teams, but for many their sports passion is reserved for the two major college teams, especially their football teams. And there is no bigger game on those die-hard fans' schedules than the Civil War.

A Pac-12 Network official says the network doesn't "feel any shame or regret" over the network's failure to reach an agreement, but acknowledges "frustration" over the standoff. Charter seems to have an equally cavalier attitude.

That's particularly galling when you consider that the Pac-12 Network's meal ticket comes from the sports teams of publicly funded universities. There are some private schools in the PAC-12, but in Oregon the good old taxpayer is footing a big chunk of the bill for both conference schools, while at the same time being denied access to programs involving those schools.

Meanwhile, Charter operates in Jackson County through franchise agreements signed off on by local governments. It is currently negotiating with the city of Medford — perhaps our city leaders should ask Charter about its commitment to providing coverage from this state before they agree to anything. We're sure Comcast (which does have a Pac-12 agreement) or almost any other cable TV provider would be happy to fill the void if Charter got the boot.

The Pac-12 Network and Charter should feel "shame and regret" for their failure. Sports fans from Oregon and Oregon State could help them get back in touch with their feelings by registering their concerns both with their respective universities and with their program provider, whether it's Charter or DirecTV.

Truly motivated fans can deliver the strongest message by withholding financial support from the universities and the companies until the situation is resolved. That's the only message we're sure they'll understand.

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