NCAAW: Pac-12 conference play features 5 ranked teams, but only select group able to see network games

Oregon's Ruthy Hebard, right, maneuvers for position under the basket in a game that aired to a small audience on the Pac-12 Network. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)
Oregon's Ruthy Hebard, right, maneuvers for position under the basket in a game that aired to a small audience on the Pac-12 Network. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

At the end of the December, we noted that the Oregon Civil War game in Corvallis this month saw the earliest sell out in Oregon State’s program history. Now the game two days prior at Oregon’s house in Eugene is officially sold out as well, Ducks coach Kelly Graves told John Canzano of The Oregonian.

Unfortunately, as of right now only one of these games will be seen by a wide audience outside of Pac-12 country. The Sunday game with No. 2 Oregon at No. 3 Oregon State will be televised by ESPN2, but the first meeting on Friday will air on the Pac-12 Network, which lacks the same exposure as other conference TV networks.

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This is true of some other top conference contests. Oregon’s games with No. 5 Stanford has been optioned by ESPN2 (or ESPN in one case), but No. 3 Oregon State will also have games with Stanford that will impact the NCAA tournament. Those are on Pac-12 Networks, as are most of the conference games that include No. 8 UCLA, No. 18 Arizona and RV Arizona State. Just in this weekend’s lineup alone, Arizona will host Oregon State and Oregon with both on Pac-12.

The conference has an ongoing national audience problem since its reach is smaller than other conference networks. Cable provider Comcast Xfinity and satellite provider DirecTV are the two largest providers of television in the U.S., according to a Leichtman Research Group report last May. Comcast reaches approximately 22 million subscribers and DirectTV reaches approximately 19 million.

Fellow cable provider Charter (Spectrum) reaches approximately 16 million and Dish TV, the other satellite provider, reaches about 10 million. Three of the four conferences with a standalone network have deals of some sort with all four of the major providers.

Pac-12 is the network that doesn’t, and while it seemed optimistic during its 2012 launch, there is still no agreement with DirecTV. In August, Pac-12 Networks president Mark Shuken indicated it’s no longer a priority, saying they don’t want to “skate where the puck has been” but instead to “where the puck’s going,” per the Mercury News.

That would be online streaming platforms. Shuken and conference commissioner Larry Scott mentioned ESPN+ and DAZN, pointing to the decline of pay TV and increase of streaming services. While it is on Sling TV, the most popular one, it isn’t on Hulu TV nor YouTube TV. YouTube TV doesn’t release subscriber numbers, but ranks top on many lists of best online TV streaming products.

The Pac-12 also reportedly turned down an offer from ESPN last spring to distribute its networks.

POWER 5 CONFERENCES


Major TV providers


Major streaming options


Others

SEC (partnered with ESPN)


Comcast, Charter, DIRECTV, Dish


YouTube TV, Sling TV w/Sports Extra,


AT&T U-verse, Cox, Google Fiber, Hulu Live TV, Suddenlink

ACC (with ESPN)


Comcast, Charter, DIRECTV, Dish


YouTubeTV, Sling TV w/Sports Extra


Google Fiber, Hulu Live TV, Verizon Fios

Big Ten (partnered with Fox)


Comcast (in Big Ten markets), Charter, DIRECTV, Dish


FuboTV, YouTube TV, Sling TV


Hulu Live, Verizon Fios, AT&T TV Now

Pac-12 (standalone, offers main network plus seven regionals)


Comcast (Pac-12 markets), Charter, Dish


Sling TV w/Sports Extra, FuboTV (plus all regional with Sports Plus)


Frontier, Google Fiber

Note: The Big 12 does not have its own network, but did come to an expanded deal with ESPN last April. Hundreds of its contests are available on ESPN+, which is available for $4.99 a month, with or without a TV package subscription, and is also part of the booming Disney Plus package. Some games are on ESPN.

The Pac-12 Network’s audience and revenue is struggling due to it. The conference as a whole won 13 total NCAA titles last school year, making it the 14th in a row and 18th time in 19 years that it led all conferences in championships. This issue is larger than one sport for them.

What would help is getting what will be not only the best contests of the Pac-12, but the best match-ups in women’s college basketball this season, out to a wider audience. These games are what turn people into fans — of women’s basketball, of the school, of the game — and it would be beneficial if more could see them. We’ve seen a lot of upsets so far this season, and a major one in the Pac-12 is quite possible.

This topic of TV coverage has been covered ad nauseam over the years. Most recently, Lindsay Gibbs lamented the lack of TV coverage over Thanksgiving at Power Plays. The largest upsets of the year were not on television and to stream them was expensive, if you could find that information at all. The Pac-12 issues have also been ongoing, as detailed by Jon Wilner for Mercury News.

Going beyond distribution to in-game coverage

But it’s not just putting women’s games on TV. The ACC Network aired a women’s doubleheader Thursday night — a great doubleheader at that — yet at halftime, after a quick recap of ACC action on the women’s side, the show focused on men’s basketball conversation.

It’s similar at the professional level, where WNBA games don’t get pregame or postgame shows. Standalone content doesn’t work anymore; discussing the sport is what pushes it. Which is why the following view into team camaraderie and smart basketball minds breaking down a thrilling play was refreshing.

Ahead of the Syracuse-Notre Dame game on Sunday, Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman and the pivotal players described the inbound play he sketched out on a napkin at Outback Steakhouse three years ago. They used it to defeat No. 8 Florida State in overtime.

This is the kind of content women’s basketball deserves. There is more to know about these teams, these coaches and these players that is being skimmed over.

’Cuse (8-6, 2-1 ACC) defeated Notre Dame for the first time since 2002, getting another overtime victory out of it. Hillsman was 0-16 against the Muffet McGraw-led Fighting Irish in his 14-year career.

What to watch this week

No. 6 Baylor (11-1) at No. 1 UConn (12-0)

Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

The top team in the nation will get its first test of a new decade when No. 6 Baylor, the reigning champion, comes to town on Thursday for a nationally televised game.

The Bears have the No. 2 scoring offense behind Oregon at 88 points per game as of Tuesday morning and the No. 4 scoring defense, allowing an average 48.1 points per game. They have All-American forward Lauren Cox back from a foot injury and she’s averaging 12.0 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds per game with 10 total blocks.

They are one of the top two teams in a long list of statistical categories, including margin per game (39.9 points), points per 100 possessions (114.9), opponents points per 100 possessions (63.4) and margin per 100 possessions (51.5). The Bears strength of schedule is poor, though, and the outcome of their one large test was a loss to South Carolina over the Thanksgiving break.

Via the Baylor website:

"We understand the challenge ahead of us," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. "But, no matter what happens in Connecticut, we're going to turn around and get ready for our next Big 12 opponent. And we're going to give it our best shot. Heck yeah, we want to win. But, at the end of the day, we've got 17 more Big 12 games that will mean just as much as that one game."

UConn isn’t too far off from Baylor statistically. Megan Walker averages 21.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, both team bests. Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s 54 blocks are third-best in the nation. She averages 13.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Four players average in double-digit scoring.

Baylor won the last meeting, 68-57, in January at home.

No. 21 Arkansas (13-2, 1-1 SEC) at No. 4 South Carolina (14-1, 2-0 SEC)

Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on SEC Networks

This game will break the all-time series tie, which is currently at 18-18. Though it’s been a case of the home team holding court and Arkansas is 5-10 in Columbia.

South Carolina looks unbeatable at times and has powered up after its upset loss against Indiana over Thanksgiving. The Gamecocks have gotten tremendous early effort from their freshmen and have an unforgiving defense inside. Aliyah Boston’s block count is up to 45 and the team has a nation-high 123, averaging 8.2 per game. Their 46.67 rebounds per game the third best in the nation.

Georgia Tech (11-3, 2-1 ACC) at No. 11 Florida State (14-1, 3-1 ACC)

Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ACC Networks

Georgia Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the country and pulled the upset of Miami last week, the same night that Syracuse took out Florida State. As a result the Seminoles dropped three spots in the polls.

The Yellow Jackets lost by five to Wake Forest over the weekend, while Florida State rebounded with a win over Miami.

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