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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

The Biggest Game Some Will Not See

October 27, 2000|MIKE PENNER

For television viewers in the Pacific time zone Saturday, it won't be a matter of Sooners or later.

If you want to watch Oklahoma take on top-ranked Nebraska, and you want to watch for free, there will be no Sooners--no Cornhuskers, either--and for that, you can blame the new baby boomers.

(You can also blame Disney and ABC and the Big 12 Conference, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves . . . )

The first No. 1-versus-No. 2 midseason college football matchup since the inception of the BCS rankings will not be carried by ABC in the Pacific time zone because the game kicks off at 11 a.m. at Norman, Okla.--9 a.m. here, which is sacred territory also known as "children's programming," considered untouchable by Disney-owned ABC, except in the event of a national crisis.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 28, 2000 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 2 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Cartoons--An ABC cartoon show's title appeared Friday as "Mickey Mouse and the Game Warden Wildlife Journal." It should have read "Mickey MouseWorks." "Game Warden Wildlife Journal" is a separate show.

(And depriving millions of Pacific 10 Conference fans the chance to watch, for once, big-time college football played during October doesn't qualify?)

So instead of Eric Crouch and Josh Heupel, West Coast ABC viewers will get "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command," "Doug," "Pepper Ann," "Winnie the Pooh" and "Mickey Mouse and the Game Warden Wildlife Journal." Disney isn't touching those. Because the best way to corral the allowance-spending consumers of tomorrow is to grab them while they're still in their footed pajamas.

College football fans? Generally speaking, they tend not to buy much Disney merchandise. And with many of them concentrated in the Rust and Bible belts, they rarely make pilgrimages to Disneyland and Disney World.

Mark Mandel, spokesman for ABC Sports, said that the Saturday morning children's programming block is "very important for the network. We're a full-service network, not just a sports network. . . . There are loyal viewers for those shows that know when their shows are being aired, just like viewers of sports, entertainment and news shows, and you can't disrupt their schedule without real notice and unless it's of real national importance."

This is not an East Coast problem, because ABC's kiddie shows will already have been aired by noon, when the Oklahoma-Nebraska game kicks off in that time zone. Which is why the Big 12 Conference agreed to schedule the game at the unusually early time of 11 a.m.--to accommodate East Coast viewers.

West Coast viewers apparently are viewed as more dispensable. The Big 12 and ABC could have rescheduled the game later in the day so that the West Coast could see it live, once the morning cartoons are off the air, but didn't consider it worth the inconvenience.

Instead, ABC's West Coast college football menu will begin at 12:30 p.m. with Oregon-Arizona State, followed by UCLA-Arizona at 4 p.m.

"We're very aware of the frustrations that some of our fans have and don't take them lightly," Mandel said. "If it's something that we don't like, we try to see if we can avoid it. And we don't make these decisions callously. It's just that in this situation, we couldn't accommodate the entire country.

"It's hard to put together an entire season's [television] schedule without knowing what's going to happen in college football, particularly this season. The Nebraska-Oklahoma game used to be one of the biggest games of the year 20 years ago, but over the last 20 it hasn't been. For us to have predicted this might be a game of such importance--that the whole country would want to see--six months ago, I think it's understandable that we didn't do that.

"We just ask all of our viewers and college football fans to understand that it's a difficult predicament and we do the best we can under the circumstances. And this circumstance is well beyond anyone's capacity to predict six months ago."

OPTION PLAY: OPTION TO PAY

Local viewers do have another option Saturday morning: They can watch Oklahoma-Nebraska for $11.95 on pay-per-view.

ESPN is offering the game on pay-per-view as part of its GamePlan college football package. But viewers who do not subscribe to GamePlan can still purchase the game by contacting their local cable operator.

Seeing as how Disney owns both ABC and ESPN, couldn't ABC have shipped the game out to ESPN so the entire country could watch Oklahoma-Nebraska live, and free of charge?

"It's ABC's game," ESPN spokesman Mike Humes said. "I understand we're all under the same umbrella, but that would be the same thing as if CBS was doing the game. We can't do it in the areas that they're not. And, we don't have a contract with the Big 12. ABC does, but we don't."

With a laugh, Humes added, "Hopefully, I'll see it in my area."

BITING THE BROKEN BAT THAT FEEDS IT

This week's He Doth Protest Too Much award goes to Fox baseball analyst Steve Lyons, who opened Tuesday night's World Series Game 3 pregame show with the following rant about the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza broken-bat relay:

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