Notre Dame hoops games a tough television find

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

When the eighth-ranked Notre Dame men’s basketball team plays its first regular-season game in nearly four years Thursday as a Top 10 team, it should be must-see television for Irish hoops fans around Michiana.

Instead, it depends on the cable system that fans subscribe to and whether others have paid additional dollars for expanded sports-package channels that determine who can watch the Virginia Tech game.

Thursday’s game is designated by the Atlantic Coast Conference as a Regional Sports Network (RSN) contest. The ACC has a regional sports network contract with Fox Sports. Every city in the ACC market — which stretches from Boston to Miami and reaches as far west as Indiana and Kentucky — has a Fox Sports outlet to air those RSN games either on cable or on local television networks.

Every city, that is, except South Bend.

When a Notre Dame game is classified as an RSN game — Thursday against Virginia Tech, last week against Georgia Tech, two next month against Boston College — only viewers who are Comcast subscribers or have purchased additional sports channels offered by their cable provider — AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV, etc. — will receive a broadcast of the game.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” said George Johnson, senior vice president of programming and distribution for North Carolina-based Raycom, which handles the distribution of ACC basketball packages. “But we do want to get as many viewers as possible.”

The ACC has an agreement with Comcast South Bend to carry Notre Dame games that are RSN designated on its standard-definition channel — no high-def — on channel 101.

Thursday’s game also is on the internet, on ESPN3.

“It’s not a perfect arrangement,” Johnson said. “But one way or another, you can see the game.”

It’s an arrangement that may frustrate long-time fans of Notre Dame men’s basketball. During the final days of the Big East before it broke apart and reinvented itself, the league had an agreement with ESPN that televised every conference game for every team, be it perennial powers Connecticut and Georgetown or cellar-dwellers DePaul and South Florida.

Even Big East league games designated for regional coverage were shown on a “free” channel in the South Bend market, often WBND, ABC 57.

That changed when Notre Dame moved in 2014 to the ACC. The league still televises all of its conference games. They now are split into three categories — marquee games that are gobbled up by the major networks (ESPN, CBS, etc.), RSN games that are parked on Fox Sports affiliates or games that are classified as ACC Network contests.

One local network — low-powered WMYS (My Michiana 69) — has a contractual agreement with the conference to show the designated ACCN games.

So Thursday, while the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech is in progress, WMYS is obligated to show that night’s ACCN game — North Carolina State at Miami (Fla.) — even though interest in Michiana would seem to be slim to none.

A call to WMYS was directed to sales manager Dave Carr. He forwarded the message to programming director Shawn Long, who is based in Chicago. Long did not return the Tribune’s phone call.

Notre Dame enters Thursday’s game having won 13 of its last 14 games and is off to its best start since 1978-79. But the school has no say on making sure its league games reach as many area fans as possible.

“This is the ACC’s contract,” said Notre Dame senior associate athletic director for media relations John Heisler. “It’s up to them.”

Of Notre Dame’s 18 league games, three are ACCN games, four are RSN while one — the March 7 season finale at home against Clemson — remains ACCN/RSN.

Area fans better have Comcast or an expanded sports package on their cable systems if they want to see guard Demetrius Jackson and No. 8 Notre Dame play Thursday against Virginia Tech.SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ