By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) There was only one television network worth watching Monday morning as the NCAA handed down its historical sanctions on Penn State.
No, it wasn’t the network with the NBA guy and the longtime blowhard columnist screaming at each other across a table. And no, it wasn’t even the news network that has otherwise done a great job covering the Penn State scandal since last November.
It was the Big Ten Network.
Yes, the same network that nearly two weeks ago told you it “is not and was never intended to be a news organization” was on the air at 7:30 a.m. CT Monday morning — 30 minutes before NCAA President Mark Emmert’s press conference began — and stayed on the air until Noon. With Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith in their Chicago studios, Mike Hall in Indianapolis, and Rick Pizzo in State College, BTN delivered over four hours of live, non-stop, commercial-free coverage.
And it was outstanding.
Revsine, DiNardo and Griffith discussed every aspect of the scandal, violations and impact on football in a very open and honest manner back in Chicago. They brought you interviews from former Penn State players, including a telling and somewhat startling Q&A with former PSU quarterback Michael Robinson. Hall grabbed a number of well respected journalists in Indianapolis, including Yahoo!’s Pat Forde and the New York Times’ Pete Thamel. Pizzo had the reaction from State College, where fans were stunned and saddened as the NCAA cast a wide shadow over the not-so Happy Valley.
From start to finish, BTN delivered by far the most in-depth and knowledgeable coverage on one of the most important days in Big Ten Conference history.
It was also an historic day for BTN, which clearly learned from its mistakes and took an enormous step forward Monday. I openly criticized BTN — where I worked as a freelancer for three years — for not airing the Freeh Report press conference July 12 and releasing a statement claiming it was not a news organization.
So what changed between July 12 and Monday?
“Regarding the Freeh Report, we were not able to get it on the air due to an internal communications issue,” a BTN spokesperson told me. “And, on top of that, our statement explaining why not wasn’t as clear as it could have been, and so compounded things. We are not a 24/7 news operation, but we do cover news, as I’m sure you were a part of when you were here. We had columns and links to the Freeh Report at BTN.com, and we aired an hour-long special that Friday evening. As you pointed out, we covered the issue extensively in November and December, as well as in early January with Paterno’s passing. We did not shy away from it then, and we didn’t shy away from it two weeks ago.”
To BTN’s credit, the network did air a fantastic one-hour special on the findings of the Freeh Report July 13. Several employees at the network expressed frustration with the decision to air the one-hour special as it seemed to come in direct response to the heavy criticism BTN received and it appeared to be a direct contradiction to the statement released the day before.
But it was the right move. Revsine, DiNardo and Griffith were very honest and open in their coverage and nothing was held back. They discussed the impact on the victims and one could sense the relief coming from DiNardo and Griffith as they let loose on the air. It was a big moment for BTN and a sign of things to come.
Back in November, BTN didn’t air the Penn State Board of Trustees press conference live when Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier was fired.
“As I recall, notice of that press conference came very late, somewhere around 10 PM CT, and with less than an hour to respond, we were not able to mobilize the necessary resources to air it live from the start,” the BTN spokesperson said. “That evening, we ingested the footage and packaged a 30-minute show that aired at about 1:30 a.m and repeated a number of times before subsequent breaking news occurred.”
That still doesn’t excuse the fact it was public knowledge that the Board of Trustees were meeting that night and the firing of Paterno was a real possibility, but BTN’s work in the last 11 days shows how far it has come since last November. Sunday morning, when news broke that the Paterno statue was coming down, BTN was ready with its crew in the studios and Pizzo already out in State College for the Penn State reaction. Then, news broke that the NCAA would hand down its sanctions Monday and once again, BTN was more than ready.
“I don’t think our coverage (Monday) was a departure, but the result of a more effective job planning and executing,” the spokesperson said. “It sounds like folks believe the effort paid off.”
Yes, it certainly did.
In my July 12 column, I wrote, “Many very talented people sit in the studios along the Chicago River and can only look back at how they would have covered the scandal had they been allowed to cover it with the gloves off.”
Starting July 13, the gloves have been off and the coverage has been outstanding. With the talent that exists at BTN, this is the coverage that we should expect. Unlike ESPN and CNN, these guys cover the Big Ten year-round and that experience and knowledge was shown for four straight hours Monday morning.
Expressing my own disappointment in what could have been, I mentioned July 12 that I believed BTN’s coverage of the Freeh Report “would have been the network’s finest hour.”
That hour — actually, four hours — came Monday.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.