16.7.06

SELLING YOUR INTEGRITY CHEAPLY. One of Northern Illinois University's Saturday afternoon football games has been rescheduled ... for a Sunday evening.

Northern Illinois will make its ninth television appearance of the 2006 football season when the Huskies face Miami (Ohio) on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. (Central) in Oxford, Ohio on ESPN, NIU Athletics Director Jim Phillips announced Wednesday. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. at Yager Stadium.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for our football program and for our entire university to be showcased on national television as the only college football game that evening," Phillips said. "You can't put a price tag on the exposure and attention this will bring to the university. It's invaluable."

The things we'll do for TV.

The national Sunday night airing marks the ninth of NIU's 12 regular season games in 2006 to be announced for telecast. In addition to the ESPN Sunday night game versus Miami, the Huskies' Nov. 7 Tuesday night home contest versus West Division rival Toledo will air on ESPN2, while the 2006 season opener at Ohio State will be televised by ABC with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. (Central). ESPNU will carry Northern Illinois' home finale versus Central Michigan beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17.

Five NIU games will be televised live on Comcast Sports Net, including home contests with Ohio (Sept. 9), Buffalo (Sept. 16), Indiana State (Sept. 23) and Temple (Oct. 21) and the 2006 regular season finale at Eastern Michigan (Nov. 24).

Put another way, four of Northern Illinois's twelve games have been scheduled at non-traditional times for the benefit of TV. (I'm cutting the university a bit of slack here, including the Saturday evening games as "traditional." In these parts, it can stay hot late into the day well into fall.) Specifically, the September schedule provides the scheduling God and Harry Stuldreher intended: Saturdays at Ohio State, Ohio here, Buffalo here in the evening, Indiana State here, and at Ball State in the evening. October has been defiled: at Miami of Ohio on a Sunday, at Western Michigan the following Saturday, Temple (choosing the Buffalo route to Beer and Circuses?) here, and at Iowa, both on Saturdays. November ... got your polar suit? Toledo here on a Tuesday, Central Michigan here Friday of the following week, then a trip to Eastern Michigan the day after Thanksgiving. Invaluable exposure?? When, as former Northern Star sports columnist Nick Gerts, now with the DeKalb Chronicle, notes, the time slot was available because ESPN no longer had the Sunday evening professional game?

ESPN flexed its almighty muscle once again this week, dangling anything and everything to get back in the national spotlight on Sunday nights. The victims are not only two Mid-American Conference programs, but also every student-athlete competing in the NCAA Division I-A for football.

Northern Illinois and Miami hold the dubious honor of opening the Bristol, Conn.-based company's Sunday Night Football on Oct. 8. Unfortunately, the RedHawks sacrificed the traditional Saturday Homecoming celebrations to have the game televised on a network self-proclaimed as the “Worldwide Leader of Sports.”

But it's amateur sport. Not.

One person inside the Northern Illinois Athletic Department, who did not want to be quoted or identified, was disturbed by the move to Sunday.

Sure the exposure is tremendous. There isn't a university out there that wouldn't bite at the chance to play in front of millions of people for the sake of promotion. But there has to be a time where someone says enough is enough.College athletes have been prostituted around on television for numerous years, and ESPN solidifies that by moving college football to Sunday.

The Mid-American Coference is equally to blame for not stepping in and saying no as well. Given the chance, the conference would most likely agree to having a televised football game on at any
time of day, whether its at noon the day before Thanksgiving or when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Day.

However, exposure - and money - comes at a cost.

The MAC's decision to go along with ESPN could alienate its already small fanbase. The abensce of a Saturday Homecoming game against the Huskies now gives Miami just two Saturday home games. The university already has problems trying to fill Yager Stadium, which was the 100th best in the country in attendance last year with an average of 15,241 a game.

And as Mr Gerts notes, the scheduling is unlikely to help the Mid-American or Northern Illinois deal with the academic probation they've found themselves in, resources to help build the new locker room notwithstanding.

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