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The Biggest Game Some Will Not See

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For television viewers in the Pacific time zone Saturday, it won’t be a matter of Sooners or later.

If you want to watch Oklahoma take on top-ranked Nebraska, and you want to watch for free, there will be no Sooners--no Cornhuskers, either--and for that, you can blame the new baby boomers.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 28, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 28, 2000 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 2 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Cartoons--An ABC cartoon show’s title appeared Friday as “Mickey Mouse and the Game Warden Wildlife Journal.” It should have read “Mickey MouseWorks.” “Game Warden Wildlife Journal” is a separate show.

(You can also blame Disney and ABC and the Big 12 Conference, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves . . . )

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The first No. 1-versus-No. 2 midseason college football matchup since the inception of the BCS rankings will not be carried by ABC in the Pacific time zone because the game kicks off at 11 a.m. at Norman, Okla.--9 a.m. here, which is sacred territory also known as “children’s programming,” considered untouchable by Disney-owned ABC, except in the event of a national crisis.

(And depriving millions of Pacific 10 Conference fans the chance to watch, for once, big-time college football played during October doesn’t qualify?)

So instead of Eric Crouch and Josh Heupel, West Coast ABC viewers will get “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Doug,” “Pepper Ann,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Mickey Mouse and the Game Warden Wildlife Journal.” Disney isn’t touching those. Because the best way to corral the allowance-spending consumers of tomorrow is to grab them while they’re still in their footed pajamas.

College football fans? Generally speaking, they tend not to buy much Disney merchandise. And with many of them concentrated in the Rust and Bible belts, they rarely make pilgrimages to Disneyland and Disney World.

Mark Mandel, spokesman for ABC Sports, said that the Saturday morning children’s programming block is “very important for the network. We’re a full-service network, not just a sports network. . . . There are loyal viewers for those shows that know when their shows are being aired, just like viewers of sports, entertainment and news shows, and you can’t disrupt their schedule without real notice and unless it’s of real national importance.”

This is not an East Coast problem, because ABC’s kiddie shows will already have been aired by noon, when the Oklahoma-Nebraska game kicks off in that time zone. Which is why the Big 12 Conference agreed to schedule the game at the unusually early time of 11 a.m.--to accommodate East Coast viewers.

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West Coast viewers apparently are viewed as more dispensable. The Big 12 and ABC could have rescheduled the game later in the day so that the West Coast could see it live, once the morning cartoons are off the air, but didn’t consider it worth the inconvenience.

Instead, ABC’s West Coast college football menu will begin at 12:30 p.m. with Oregon-Arizona State, followed by UCLA-Arizona at 4 p.m.

“We’re very aware of the frustrations that some of our fans have and don’t take them lightly,” Mandel said. “If it’s something that we don’t like, we try to see if we can avoid it. And we don’t make these decisions callously. It’s just that in this situation, we couldn’t accommodate the entire country.

“It’s hard to put together an entire season’s [television] schedule without knowing what’s going to happen in college football, particularly this season. The Nebraska-Oklahoma game used to be one of the biggest games of the year 20 years ago, but over the last 20 it hasn’t been. For us to have predicted this might be a game of such importance--that the whole country would want to see--six months ago, I think it’s understandable that we didn’t do that.

“We just ask all of our viewers and college football fans to understand that it’s a difficult predicament and we do the best we can under the circumstances. And this circumstance is well beyond anyone’s capacity to predict six months ago.”

OPTION PLAY: OPTION TO PAY

Local viewers do have another option Saturday morning: They can watch Oklahoma-Nebraska for $11.95 on pay-per-view.

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ESPN is offering the game on pay-per-view as part of its GamePlan college football package. But viewers who do not subscribe to GamePlan can still purchase the game by contacting their local cable operator.

Seeing as how Disney owns both ABC and ESPN, couldn’t ABC have shipped the game out to ESPN so the entire country could watch Oklahoma-Nebraska live, and free of charge?

“It’s ABC’s game,” ESPN spokesman Mike Humes said. “I understand we’re all under the same umbrella, but that would be the same thing as if CBS was doing the game. We can’t do it in the areas that they’re not. And, we don’t have a contract with the Big 12. ABC does, but we don’t.”

With a laugh, Humes added, “Hopefully, I’ll see it in my area.”

BITING THE BROKEN BAT THAT FEEDS IT

This week’s He Doth Protest Too Much award goes to Fox baseball analyst Steve Lyons, who opened Tuesday night’s World Series Game 3 pregame show with the following rant about the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza broken-bat relay:

“We’ve seen some great baseball. We’ve seen some great fan reaction. We’ve seen lousy media reaction. We are to blame for continuing this ridiculous conversation. Basically, nothing happened. A $50,000 fine for what? What if Robin Ventura takes a bat, loses the handle, swings it, throws it into the seats. Is he going to get fined $50,000? Half the people in this stadium don’t make $50,000 a year. I gotta tell you: I, for one, am sick about talking about this incident. I’d like to talk about World Series baseball. And I’m darn sure that Mike Piazza feels the same way.”

This was immediately followed by a taped interview of Lyons asking Piazza questions about This Incident.

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And preceding it, during Tuesday’s pregame show and throughout Fox’s coverage of Sunday’s Game 2, were exhaustive replays of the Clemens-Piazza episode shot from every conceivable angle short of the Bat-Shaft Cam. Although, no doubt, that one is coming.

Lyons is right on this much: Fox contributed as much as anyone to what Keith Olbermann accurately described as “the Clemens over-reaction.” Which, Olbermann noted, was a blessing in disguise for the New York Mets, because it “buried the real story” of Game 2--why Met Manager Bobby Valentine didn’t pinch-hit for Kurt Abbott with his team down a run with two out in the ninth inning.

Yeah, what about that?

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What Los Angeles Is Watching

A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for Oct. 21-22, including sports on cable networks:

SATURDAY

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Over-the-air Channel Rating Share World Series: Mets at Yankees 11 12.6 22 College football: USC at Stanford 7 5.3 13 Golf: Presidents Cup 4 3.4 9 College football: Notre Dame at W. Virginia 2 2.2 6 College football: Alabama at Tennessee 2 1.5 4 College football: Cal at Washington 9 1.3 3

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*

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Cable Network Rating Share College football: Purdue at Wisconsin ESPN 1.8 5 College football: Oregon State at UCLA FSN2 1.6 3 College football: Arizona at Oregon FSN 1.2 2 College football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse ESPN 0.8 2 College football: Illinois at Penn State ESPN2 0.5 1 Boxing: Mayweather vs. Burton HBO 0.5 1 College football: Tulane at Army FSN 0.4 1 College football: Clemson at North Carolina ESPN2 0.2 0

*--*

*

SUNDAY

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Over-the-air Channel Rating Share World Series: Mets at Yankees 11 13.5 24 Pro football: St. Louis at Kansas City 11 12.4 30 Pro football: Washington at Jacksonville 11 7.3 17 Pro football: Seattle at Oakland 2 5.7 14 Golf: Presidents Cup 4 3.3 9 Gravity Games 4 2.0 5 Pro basketball: Lakers vs. Golden State 9 1.6 3 Soccer: Necaxa vs. Atlas 34 1.0 2

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*

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Cable Network Rating Share Horse racing: Oak Tree FSN2 0.8 2 Auto racing: NASCAR Winston Cup TNN 0.8 2 Women’s soccer: Arizona at Oregon FSN2 0.6 1 Boxing: Peden vs. Barcenas FSN 0.5 1 Auto racing: NHRA O’Reilly Fall Nationals ESPN2 0.4 1 Golf: Senior PGA Kaanapali Classic ESPN 0.3 1 Women’s tennis: WTA Generali Open FSN 0.3 1 Triathlon: International Ironman ESPN 0.3 1

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MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Dolphins at Jets, Channel 7; 13.7/21.

TUESDAY WORLD SERIES: Yankees at Mets: Channel 11, 12.9/21.

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