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March 11, 2013

TODD GOLDEN: Disrespect shown to MVC by CBS

TERRE HAUTE — I felt sick when I woke up on Sunday.

I was in St. Louis — Indiana State’s advancement to Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals assured that my hotel stay would last through Sunday.

My usual M.O. when I’m at Arch Madness until Sunday is to just go ahead and cover the MVC championship game whether ISU is participating or not.

But a minor stomach bug had increasingly got worse during my stay. I felt queasy when I woke up and decided it would be better to drive home and rest up. I figured I would get home in time to watch the last part of the game.

I got home at about 4 p.m. and turned the game on.

Suddenly, I felt a lot sicker.

Indiana and Michigan were on my screen preparing to tipoff for their Big Ten regular season finale. This was despite the fact there was still four minutes left in the MVC title game, one that ultimately went down to the wire before Creighton staved off a furious Wichita State rally for a 68-65 victory.

It wasn’t just Terre Haute. The MVC championship game was also preempted in Evansville and Peoria, Ill. Including Terre Haute, the three TV markets represent four (ISU, Evansville, Illinois State and Bradley) of the MVC’s 10 schools.

The finale was not preempted everywhere. MVC markets west of the Mississippi River — including Big Ten territory markets in Iowa — saw the MVC Tournament championship game in its entirety. Markets outside of the Midwest did as well.

It’s my understanding that no warning or explanation was given to viewers that the game would be switched.

Needless to say, Arch Madness took on a whole new meaning for me.

I vented my spleen (I’m a viewer too after all) the 21st Century way — on Twitter. I quickly heard from WTHI sports director Rick Semmler and Peoria’s CBS affiliate — WMBD — that the call to switch away from Arch Madness was made at the network level, not at the local level.

WTHI general manager Todd Weber confirmed as much when he contacted me on Sunday evening.

“CBS New York switched to the game. If it had been Indiana State in the game, it would have been a constant [network term for carrying a game from start to finish], but the Indiana-Michigan is the national game, and they switched to it,” Weber said.

Why weren’t the MVC’s CBS affiliates given the chance to make the call themselves?

“They’re CBS and that’s what they do,” said Weber, who wasn’t sure why the game was carried in its entirety in other CBS MVC markets.

In a later statement, MVC commissioner Doug Elgin called the CBS decision “incredibly disappointing” and “disrespectful.”

The Arch Madness snub by CBS violated a time-honored principle.

In-progress games should never, ever be preempted. I understand it was a Big Ten game in a Big Ten region. It was also a Missouri Valley Conference game in a MVC region. Respect should have been shown to the MVC markets that overlap both conferences. At the very least, affiliates should have been given a choice.

“It’s a no-win situation, even if ISU was playing [in the MVC championship game], 80 percent of our viewers would’ve been upset. It’s the same when we get a Colts-Bears conflict,” Weber said.

It’s frustrating to have to join a game in progress. We’ve all been there. I get it that IU fans who don’t follow the Valley just wanted to get on with it and get to their own game.

But that frustration can be multiplied 100-fold to be switched away from an in-progress game four minutes away from what turned out to be a gripping conclusion. There are plenty of ISU/MVC fans in this market who would have loved to have seen it.

The first four minutes of the IU-Michigan game, or any game, do not trump — in any way, shape or form — the last four minutes of a conference championship game.

It’s why the “Heidi Game” is famous. In 1968, NBC broke away from a tense AFL game to show the movie “Heidi.” Complaints to NBC knocked out their switchboard. It’s why networks rarely switch from an in-progress game, regardless of home market or not.

The MVC and CBS need to get this remedied. Arch Madness was preempted in some (non-MVC) markets last year as well.

The allure of having the conference championship game on network TV is understandable. It’s a plum for the MVC. But that plum rots if fans from four of the league’s 10 schools can’t watch the championship game to its conclusion.

What’s the point of being visible if you can’t be seen?

Seems the sensible solution is to start the MVC title game a half-hour early. But would that fit into a CBS time slot? If it doesn’t, then perhaps the MVC is better served on ESPN — which is still the rights-holder for the title game. CBS buys the rights to the game from ESPN.

As far as Terre Haute is concerned, Indiana State and the Missouri Valley Conference have a home here. No matter how many IU fans there are in the market, ISU fans deserve to see their conference tournament championship game to its conclusion if it’s supposed to be broadcast as such.

It was a slap in the face. Shame on CBS.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4272 or todd.golden@trib Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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