Can the Big Ten and BTN do more for wrestling?

Updated: November 30, 2011

By Jason Bryant

When it comes to showing wrestling on television, whether it be live or tape delayed, the Big Ten Network has been the clear leader since its inception in 2007.
   On Nov. 18, the Big Ten Network released its annual schedule of wrestling broadcasts and webcasts. It was somewhat of a relief to some after only a month earlier, an incomplete schedule (according to the BTN) was published by one of the Big Ten sports information offices.
This year’s schedule features 45 events including the Midlands Championships and Big Ten Championship finals. That isn’t too bad, but consider only 16 of those events will be on the terrestrial (read: television) side, it makes you wonder if the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network could be doing more to promote their programs and the sports.
There is no doubt basketball navigates the ship at the Big Ten Network, but we’ve all come to that reality. We also understand women’s basketball will get the next level of promotion, because whether you care about it or not, there has to be equal billing with promotion or BTN and the conference could be hit with a Title IX complaint and we all know we don’t want that to happen.
But where does this leave wrestling?
According to InterMat writer T.R. “Tim” Foley in a February 2010 feature, wrestling was the third-most watched sport on the BTN.
Being the third-most watched sport on BTN seems to preach to the point wrestling SHOULD be getting more time. According to the Big Ten, it is, but there’s one caveat to that statement — if you include — then they would be right.
But BTN is doing more than ever, right?
Not in the eyes of most people. TV and the web are different mediums. No matter what BTN says, they’re only putting X-amount of matches on TV and the rest are webcast. Again, to most people, the webcast is not BTN, it’s a webcast. To say they are one and the same is borderline insulting. And I say this knowing how much time BTN does put into wrestling, but they’re not maximizing the potential exposure.
Business or not, showcase your best teams in their sports. That’s what the BTN was founded to do, right?
I know for a fact there are dozens and dozens of wrestling fans who specifically bought a certain cable or sports combo package on their cable or satellite provider just to get BTN. Now, instead of showing those fans the matches they were hoping to see, they tack on an extra charge to watch those matches on-line.
Is it bait and switch? Not necessarily, but it makes you wonder why you ever bought the BTN sports package to start with. People are going to wise up and eventually just watch everything on the web. I already subscribe to one all-school, all-sports package which will allow me to watch not just the Big Ten matches, but over 100 duals on-line all year long.
Financially speaking, there isn’t a solution for advertising dollars to come in. Sure, we all realize if the BTN was getting any financial gain from wrestling, they’d surely show it more live. But as it stands right now, they get good viewership and not much else from us.
But what could the BTN do about this? One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with the BTN is the scheduling component. Why does the Big Ten set the conference dual schedules on the same heavy viewing days as basketball?
When the conference season is firing on all cylinders, there could be as many as seven men’s and women’s basketball games competing on the same day as three or four conference wrestling duals. It’s no wonder wrestling gets pushed out of crucial live viewing spots.
One of the reasons I’ve heard the Big Ten and other conferences schedule weekend heavy is to eliminate the loss of class time. When basketball travels two to three times more than wrestling, I’m sure the Big Ten could get a little more creative with making sure its best matches get prime viewing options. There is absolutely no plausible reason Iowa vs. Penn State should be shown via tape delay.
The only two schools who aren’t an easy bus ride away are Penn State and Nebraska. The Michigan schools aren’t too easy to get to from the west, either, but the class time argument can be used for basketball and travel-heavy sports. You can make wrestling different. There’s nothing I’ve heard from the Big Ten that insists wrestling be scheduled on the same basketball-heavy dates.
Change it up, help the sport even more.
The Big Ten Network has done wonders, mainly because those of us with the means CAN get the TV and the webcasts and those again with the means can DVR matches to watch them later and avoid the message boards.
But in 2011-12, the Big Ten schedule not only affects its potential TV times, but it’s also cost two tournaments the opportunity to have Big Ten teams compete — the Lone Star Duals in Arlington, Texas and the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Va.
Several teams from the Big Ten were interested in competing at those events, but the Big Ten schedule started the weekend those events are taking place. There’s no excuse to not know when the Virginia Duals kicks off, it’s been the same time for 32 years.
That conference scheduling eliminated 15 percent of the Division I teams from competing. As a result, the Virginia Duals National College Division has only 14 teams from its normal 16 and is devoid of a Big Ten competitor for the first time in well over 20 years. It’s harmed that event, which if people might recall, was the founding event of the NWCA National Duals.
I applaud the efforts of the Big Ten Network when it comes to airing the nation’s best wrestling conference, but I feel the conference can be doing more to improve the overall health of the sport … and that includes making sure long-standing events like the Lone Star Duals and Virginia Duals have Big Ten participation.