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The Pac-12 Network Contributes to East Coast Bias

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I don't get the Pac-12 Network right now, though I would if Comcast offered it in Tallahassee. But given that the day draws closer and closer that I will be a Dish Network subscriber -- if Comcast doesn't decide to pick up the SEC Network relatively quickly -- I'm now watching what happens with regards to the Pac-12 Network with some interest. (Not to mention the fact that other conference networks' decisions are interesting in what they tell us about the SEC Net.) Today, the Pac-12 announced a decision that makes getting the conference's network less of a positive than it might have been.

The decision is not indefensible. Part of it is a concession to reality: The Pac-12 Network doesn't reach far beyond the borders of the conference's footprint on a lot of providers, so there's not much of a ratings hit to take. Few Pac-12 fans are not likely to switch over to the SEC game on CBS unless it has a direct bearing on the playoff race. And because of the network's limited reach, there probably aren't a lot of fans from outside the conference watching the Pac-12 Network's late games.

But there are some, and the number is going to increase if providers continue to hold out on conference networks -- because that will push devoted college football fans to providers that do offer conference networks. And even for those us who would watch late Pac-12 games elsewhere, the 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET slot is likely to draw some of the games that might go on ESPN and FS1 in the 10 p.m. ET window.

There's also a bit of the decision that seems grounded in the mythology of East Coast bias. If such a thing exists, and I'm not entirely sure that it does, it has almost nothing to do with the fact that the Pac-12 plays later than anything else. A decade or so ago, when there were fewer games on television, it might have played some role -- but because ABC did regional coverage that led to 7:30 p.m. ET games only being shown in the West, and ESPN only showed a few games on its (then) two networks, most of them in the prime-time slots.

The current TV environment is far different. ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU often have late games on, because live games are one of the few things that are resistant to DVR, on-demand and Netflix. There's also the boomlet of other sports networks to show late games, from FS1 to CBS Sports to NBC Sports. Late FS1 games, in particular, would be good ways for the Pac-12 to get its product out there.

When no one else is playing football. And that's the key part of what strikes me as misguided about the Pac-12's decision: There is no other power conference with the right time zone to play football when no one else can. The Pac-12 has a virtual monopoly at a time when the most rabid college football fans across the country are searching for games to watch, and the conference is not using it. Instead, most of the people who watch football closely and drive online discussions about Heisman contenders and polls and the like are watching the Mountain West games on CBS Sports Network.

Not to mention that it will make the games impossible to watch for sportswriters and SIDs coaches who have their own teams to worry about. The Pac-12 has a geographical blessing when it comes to late games, but its historical grudges and outmoded way of thinking about things are prompting the conference to turn it into a curse.