Weak Left-Handed Shots is a name I'm giving any opinion-like pieces I have here, otherwise known as "Not Parodies or Infographics," with the name based on my high school career as a backup attackman. Today I will focus a bit on television coverage of College Lacrosse. Do not mind any sugar rush I still have remaining from Saturday's Syracuse-Princeton game... I assure you it didn't come from Marshmallow Peeps.
This past Saturday ESPN aired a game between Virginia and UNC on its main network. This was the second time this season that ESPN has put a regular season game on the mothership, which is a jump from their usual one regular season game a year. Although ESPN and its college network ESPNU has continued to step up their commitment to airing college lacrosse games, there's still some things that can help grow coverage even more on their network and on others. For instance, tomorrow night's the annual "Half of Long Island/The Lacrosse Community complains they can't watch Syracuse-Cornell" night, with Time Warner Cable Sports in Central New York having exclusive coverage. In lieu of that, here's some ways college lacrosse coverage can be strengthened even further down the line.
-Try to wrangle away Cuse-Cornell from TWCS: Might as well knock this out of the park considering I mentioned this. Tomorrow you'll see a lot of complaints on lacrosse sites about people not being able to see this matchup. This basically works like clockwork each year. This probably has to do with Time Warner's control of televising the game. Considering there's no outlet with SNY this time of year with the Mets (as parodied last week with Syracuse's game against Princeton), this game's basically restricted to the Syracuse and Ithaca markets. To help give lacrosse fans what they want, ESPN should make an attempt to buy this out from Time Warner each year. This comes at a cost for TWCS, as they lose a key game to their package. But in the long run the greater lacrosse community would benefit.
-That Hopkins Deal...: Look, Johns Hopkins has every right to have a television contract by being an independent team, similar to Notre Dame and Army/Navy football. The issue here is that Hopkins has an exclusive deal with one of the only networks that airs lacrosse, which means games are being taken away from other teams. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of high quality Hopkins games on ESPNU throughout the year. The issue is Hopkins' low-quality games: the ones against Manhattan, Albany, etc. Furthermore, the beginning of the season was very Hopkins heavy, with 4 out of the first 5 games aired on ESPNU involving Hopkins. The deal should stay intact, with some adjustments. Baltimore-area residents wouldn't lose any games, as there's a deal to simulcast ESPNU telecasts on their local ABC affiliates. For the rest of the lacrosse community, have the outlet of watching games on ESPN3.com so that things free up for other matchups. This is a little bit of a problem with some areas not having ESPN3.com (like Long Island with Cablevision), but it allows those who want to watch Hopkins the ability to do so while giving others the ability to watch a higher quality game on the "U."
-An ESPN2 Game of the Week?: This one's tough with ESPN's commitment to college basketball the first month or so of the season. As the season progresses, though, there could be a bit of a window for ESPN to help grow the sport further by putting a national game of the week on ESPN2 each week from, say, Hopkins-Syracuse on. It would have the main announcer group of Eamon McAnaney and Quint Kessenich and feature the best matchup each week (think whatever big ACC game, Maryland-Hopkins, Cornell-Princeton, Big City Classic/Faceoff Classic/Mile High Classic, etc.). Stick it in the Saturday Noon slot and go from there. It probably won't get ridiculously high ratings, but it will help grow a base for NCAA Tournament time. Furthermore, NBC Sports Network's weekly college hockey telecasts have grown that sport's popularity, so combining America's fastest growing sport with America's biggest sports network could be a slam dunk/home run/touchdown/whatever other analogy you want to use.
-Keep expanding Paul Carcaterra's role: One of the best additions to ESPNU's coverage this season has been utilizing Paul Carcaterra as a sideline reporter. He's provided some good insight and has good chemistry with the A-Team of McAnaney and Kessenich. ESPN's also made him kind of like a "Between the Benches" guy, chiming in at times about the action and what the coaches are telling the players. Personally, I think ESPN should continue doing that, making Carcaterra ESPN's lacrosse equivalent of NBC's "Inside the Glass" announcer for hockey. This has really helped improve the quality of hockey telecasts on all sorts of networks and the payoff could be just as big for lacrosse.
-Have Eamon McAnaney call the Final Four: This is more for consistency sakes. I love Sean McDonough, but he only calls three lacrosse games per year (all of which are national championship weekend). McAnaney has grown himself into the position of ESPN's workhorse for lacrosse ever since Dave Ryan left for CBS a couple of seasons ago. Putting him as the announcer for the Final Four adds some continuality, plus continues the chemistry he has with Quint through the biggest games of the season.
Other Networks/Local Telecasts:
-NBCSN and Lacrosse: NBC Sports Network dove into some lacrosse coverage by airing the Moes' Southwest Grill Classic this past February. To provide a little competition with ESPN, they could air a couple more games per year. Now that they've signed a deal with the CAA (otherwise known as THUNDERDOME), they could put some of their games on TV when the contract kicks in next year. NBC could also try and work something with the Ivy League, with whom they've got a football deal with, to maybe get some of their games or their tournament on their channel. The major hurdle here, however, is that NBC goes into "All NHL, All The Time" mode from the middle of April on. Combine that with their MLS and IndyCar contracts, and it might be difficult to get some games in. If they are able to fit in some lacrosse action, however, it would provide another outlet to help grow the sport.
-CBSSN and the Patriot League: Not much I really have to say about CBS Sports Network other than keep on airing Patriot League games, really. I guess airing them weekly would be the only logical step-up I have for them.
-Getting Local: In terms of local telecasts, I'm not 100% sure of what the situation is in Maryland, so maybe you guys down there can help clarify things for me. I'll stick with the NYC market for now. At this point, in terms of local telecasts, SNY simulcasts most Syracuse games from TWCS, but other than that there's not much. Back in the day, FSN New York (now MSG Plus) aired a ton of college lacrosse games, especially from Hofstra. The issue is now Hofstra, as well as Princeton, have TV deals with Verizon FiOS. Considering the large amount of high school games MSG has been airing with its MSG Varsity channel, the on-air talent's basically right there for them. All in all, hopefully somewhere down the road MSG will be able to get back Hofstra's rights and maybe even air some other NYC area teams' games as well. One other note, in Central NY, Time Warner Cable Sports put on more Cornell games considering their success and maybe throw a bone to Colgate, too. This may have to do with some exclusive clause they have with Syracuse, but if that's not in the way they can get some Big Red games on during weekends.
Show some more Mid-Major love: If this year's any indication, mid-majors are having a huge impact on the college lacrosse scene. Just look at the seasons UMass, Loyola, Denver, Lehigh, and Colgate are having. The only issue is, Denver aside, they are rarely on television. Hopefully in the future ESPN and the other networks will see that putting on mid-major conference games can be just as entertaining, if not more, than the usual ACC/Big East/Ivy League game. Growing the pool of teams used will also help throw a bone to fans who don't belong to the ACC-Hopkins-Notre Dame-Princeton-Syracuse crowd, as those teams usually are the ones on national TV each week. It might mean not having a brand name for a game, but lax diehards will tune into any televised game anyway and casual fans might tune in if it's a close matchup.
So there you have it, some more ways for the sport of lacrosse to grow. It might be a little unrealistic given the boundaries and limitations sports networks have, but it could help grow the game even more than it has the past decade or so and help reach it to even more people.