The Ottumwa Courier

December 5, 2012

GROB: Don’t touch that dial

Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — An older gentleman called me up on the phone the other day with a complaint.

He told me there was something wrong with his television.

He chuckled when I told him that there really wasn’t much I could do about that, since I am not a TV repairman. He told me that the problem with his television seemed to be that he couldn’t get any Iowa State Cyclone basketball games on it.

“I’ve got something like 120 channels,” he said. “There isn’t a Cyclone basketball game on any one of them.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do about that, either, but I listened.

He told me a story about how when he was a teenager about 60 years ago, his father bought his first family television.

The rest of the family had been bugging him to get a TV for quite a while. They wanted to watch stars like Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, The Lone Ranger and Lassie right there in their living room.

But his father didn’t care about any of that. He finally bought the TV when he found out he could watch Iowa State Cyclone basketball games on it.

That was what convinced him.

The man on the phone went on to tell me all about how he almost never missed a game after that, through adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and into his current condition, which we shall respectfully call “elderly.”

He’s been frustrated in recent years. More and more technology, more and more television networks available, fewer and fewer Iowa State games broadcast on the tube.

He said he kind of boiled over a few years ago, when Iowa State was playing Iowa in an NIT postseason game, and it wasn’t available on television.

He has the Big Ten Network as a part of his cable package, so he will get to watch the Iowa vs. Iowa State game this Friday night. He was happy about that.

But he wasn’t able to watch either Iowa State or Iowa on Tuesday, as neither game was broadcast. Same for the games this past weekend. He was unhappy about that.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “When I was a kid, we got three or four channels for free, and I could watch almost every Cyclone game and every Hawkeye game all season long. Now, I pay for hundreds of channels, dozens of sports channels, and I have to listen to the games on the radio.”

I recall my own youth, growing up in northeast Iowa, living the same experience. It wasn’t 60 years ago — let’s say it was about 30 (OK, OK, 35) — and I watched every Hawkeye basketball game, even the preseason exhibition games. Even the intra-squad scrimmage. I not only knew every Iowa player — on the floor and up and down the bench — at the slightest glance, but I knew where each was from, what the scoring average of each was, and what they were studying in college when they weren’t playing basketball. My friends who were Iowa State fans could say the same things about all the Iowa State players.

Not anymore. I just don’t see these current Hawkeyes often enough. If you showed me a team photo, I’d be able to identify three or four of them, maybe.

So I sympathized with the older gentleman on the phone. I did try to explain to him how all the games could be available online.

Most of the Iowa State basketball games this season have been broadcast on something called “” You get the games on your computer, and it costs you about 10 bucks per month or $80 per year. The Hawkeyes have something similar, called “BTDN on Hawkeye All-Access.”

He didn’t want to hear about that, and I’m not sure I understand it enough to explain it to him. It seems like a lot of technical work for people like us, who are used to simply flipping through channels until we see the game we want.

And $80 for something that’s always been free is just too much coin.

Besides, he mentioned, who the heck wants to sit in front of a computer and watch a basketball game? He didn’t. He told me basketball games should be watched from a couch or a comfortable chair, not a work desk. Certainly not while staring at a smartphone in your hand. That’s no fun at all.

On Wednesday, Iowa State announced it is entering into a five-year partnership with the cable company Mediacom to distribute programming from “” across Iowa and bordering states.

Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard says the agreement paves the way for a fully dedicated Iowa State sports channel on Mediacom’s cable television network. No date has been set for that channel’s launch.

Mediacom says it will televise roughly 75 Iowa State events a year, including a football game and 5-10 men’s basketball games.

I’m skeptical. What about the fans who have a dish, or have something other than Mediacom?

And what about the Iowa games?

And if and when this finally gets instituted, are they going to try to find a way to make us pay a little extra to watch it?

Recent history leads me to believe that, yes, the media conglomerates will be reaching into our wallets as we’re reaching for the remotes.

Even old reruns of The Lone Ranger aren’t free anymore.

Sports editor James Grob can be contacted at