Have you ever heard of the American Sports Network? Unless you watch a lot of low to mid-major college basketball, chances are that you have not. And yet it's because of the American Sports Network that tonight's marquee clash between Boston College and Boston University will face off at 6 PM—kowtowing to the request of a fake TV channel nobody will be watching over what would be best for the actual paying fans in attendance.
This 6 PM start only serves to highlight what a backwards step it was for Hockey East to sign a television deal with the American Sports Network, which somehow has been a huge step back in terms of production quality from the in house NESN broadcasts of yesteryear. While the league points to a network of affiliates nationally that will carry the game (on a range of channels probably best known for infomercials), there is no affiliate for live coverage in the NYC area, quite possibly the only other media market in the country where there's anything resembling significant interest in watching this game on TV.
Partly as a result of this absurd ASN start time, there are plenty of tickets available on BCEagles.com right now for a game that traditionally sells out well in advance. In addition, many of those who do attend tonight will almost certainly arrive late, either due to not knowing the game starts at 6, or due to the fact that getting to BC for a 7 PM start on a Friday night can border on the impossible, let alone 6.
Tomorrow night, when the series flips to Agganis Arena, it's likely to be another unusually empty and quiet environment for a BC vs. BU game. Like BC students, BU students remain on winter break and thus won't be back in big numbers for this matchup. Additionally, the game will go head to head for at least the first period or so against a Patriots playoff game. Going up against the NFL is a losing proposition for all forms of entertainment. While Hockey East and BU obviously had no way of knowing the Patriots would be playing Saturday night, it's difficult to understand why the start time couldn't be bumped back by an hour to help ensure people actually come and watch what is the league's marquee series.
The complaint that this series is happening during student break has been lodged repeatedly all year long. This is the third time in recent years that this has happened at BU, though this is the first time BC has also been on break during its home game against BU in recent memory. Given that Hockey East scheduling changes have reduced what was once a 4-game regular season series to a 2-game series, we're essentially giving up a full year of this rivalry happening in an environment befitting it.
We haven't been shy at BC Interruption about criticizing Hockey East's leadership, which we feel has taken something pretty difficult to screw up and managed to do just that. While growing the game and its TV audience are important and worthwhile goals, college hockey ultimately is a long, long way away from being a viable TV product. What it is is a great live product. Putting a game on at 6 PM and scheduling this series during student break does no favors to this live product.
Scheduling is complicated, but starting with the principle that BC vs. BU should be scheduled in such a way as to shine the biggest spotlight possible on it and create the best possible environment seems pretty reasonable. Let's hope they get it right next year.