Commentary: ESPN demotes Frozen Four, regionals

In their infinite wisdom, executives at the ‘Worldwide Leader in Football and Basketball’ took time away from kneeling at the altar of Roger Goodell and discussion of the undying virtue of the routine slam dunk to make the decision to chip away at the foundation of the final vestiges of hockey programming on its family of networks.

After years of carrying the Frozen Four semifinals on ESPN2 and the title game on ESPN, ‘the deuce’ will now be home to college hockey’s  season swan song and one of the semifinals while the first semifinal has been relegated to the never-popular ESPNU.

While it’s true that those of us most passionate about college hockey are an easily offended and defensive lot when it comes to the game we love, it is a difficult pill to swallow when our sport’s … ahem … one shining moment (sorry, it just slipped out) is devalued by a network whose criteria for a ‘top play’ is the NBA equivalent of an empty-net goal.

Outside of the prestige factor, little, if anything, will be lost in moving the championship game from ESPN to ESPN2 as each network is available in 99 million of the country’s households. The kick in the gut comes in the regionals and semifinals when 27 million fewer households will have access to the games due to ESPNU’s availability in just 72 million homes nationwide.

Would you be surprised to learn mine isn’t one of them?

What’s more is that 72 million figure is three million less than what NBC Sports Network is capable of reaching this Friday night when it carries Denver at Nebraska-Omaha in a regular season game.

Thankfully, ESPN’s contract with the NCAA to carry its championship contests in 24 sports only runs through the end of the 2023-24 school year, so what’s another 12 years? Am I right?

Of course not.

It’s still a ways off but when/if NBC Sports Network (75 million homes) and/or CBS Sports Network (44 million) sufficiently narrows the ESPN availability gap, one can only hope that the NCAA comes to its senses and negotiates with the Boneheads of Bristol to buy out the men’s hockey portion of the deal for its perceived value to the network.

I’m thinking a shiny, crisp bill with a George Washington headshot ought to do the trick.