College sports network set to launch, but not locally

Saturday, February 22, 2003

The last time Brian Bedol got an idea for a sports network, it turned into ESPN Classic. So it's little surprise his latest venture, College Sports Television, is getting a lot of attention.

Bedol and partners Steve Greenberg and Chris Bevilacqua head the network that will televise regular-season and championship events in more than 25 men's and women's intercollegiate sports. The network is set to launch Sunday.

There are agreements in place with 27 conferences, representing more than 250 colleges and universities, and programming will include studio shows, coaches' shows and documentaries. The network's package includes rights to broadcast events from the Ohio Valley Conference, of which Southeast Missouri State University is a member.

There will be no Division I men's basketball or Division I-A football. Everything else is on the table -- from tennis to track, swimming to soccer.

College sports fans in Southeast Missouri won't benefit from Bedol's latest venture any time soon, a local cable official says.

"We don't have any plans of launching it," Roger Harms, general manager of the Cape Girardeau office of Charter Communications said.

Harms said he hasn't even heard of the channel.

"I don't exactly know what the channel is all about," he said.

But getting the word out is one of the network's primary goals. It's armed with $100 million in funding, and among the backers is Athlon Ventures, which includes Kevin Garnett, Tiki Barber, Antonio McDyess, Brian Urlacher and Michael Johnson. CSTV hopes to build its audience to 10 million homes after one year and 20 million after two.

"Part of the goal right now is to create an identity and raise our profile with consumers and cable operators," Bedol said. "There has been a lot of interest from sponsors even though we have not gone out yet aggressively in the advertising community. With a network like this, distribution is first."

For openers, CSTV will show the Connecticut vs. Notre Dame women's basketball game. The matchup of the last two NCAA champions will start a six-week preview period.

During that time, the network will allow cable and satellite operators to offer its programming for free. Starting April 7, after the NCAA men's basketball championship game, CSTV will begin charging cable and satellite operators.

Digital technology demands increased programming, and Bedol said that works in CSTV's favor.

"There are fewer buyers and they are more demanding, but good businesses are able to roll out quicker," he said.

What excites Bedol is the opportunity to present more than games that might otherwise have no exposure. He looks beyond that to a wealth of profile material available.

"You get sucked into the human drama," Bedol said. "There's the story of a University of Miami soccer goalie who broke his leg. He had surgery. There was a problem and the leg had to be amputated. After he recovered ... the track team coach saw him running with an artificial leg and invited him to come out for the varsity track team.

"It's a story nobody knows, and there are hundreds like it out there," Bedol said. "Here is an opportunity to expose those kinds of stories, the stories of student-athletes to the public."

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