The Big Ten Network is ready for football season, though few fans will get to see its first big day.
The conference's new TV network has been unable to sign a deal with the two largest cable television providers in the Midwest - Comcast and Time Warner.
On one side of the feud is the fledgling Big Ten Network, which has slotted six games involving conference teams for its first big Saturday on the air. Those games will be shown on satellite provider DirecTV and some 40 smaller cable companies.
On the other side are Comcast and Time Warner. They refuse to bow to what they say are two of the new network's demands: putting it on expanded basic cable, and charging each subscriber in the conference's eight states an additional $1.10 a month for the service.
Both sides call the other side greedy.
``What I did not foresee was how public this would become,'' Mark Silverman, president of the Big Ten Network, said on Wednesday. ``In my experience, cable companies negotiate very tough. I did not expect this to be any different. But it is the public face of it that is a surprise. It's been particularly contentious.''
He remains hopeful that the deals will get done.
Comcast and Time Warner subscribers will have to either listen to the games on radio, switch to a satellite dish or go to a restaurant or bar which carries the game.
The BTN promises 400 live events a year, although many of the premier showdowns in football such as Ohio State at Michigan, Michigan at Michigan State, Ohio State at Penn State, Michigan State at Notre Dame, Notre Dame at Penn State and Notre Dame at Michigan will be picked up by ABC and ESPN under their contracts with the conference. And Comcast and Time Warner will have all of those games.
A Comcast news release this week trumpeted ``the best Big Ten matchups, without burdening our customers with the additional cost of the Big Ten Network.''
The conference has relied on some of its best-known faces - its coaches - as leverage in the p.r. battle.
``I have cable TV. I can't tell you the exactly what's on all the stations, but I know there's lots of stuff that doesn't fire me up, but if I was flipping through and saw the Big Ten track meet and I'd get fired up and watch part of it,'' said Jim Tressel, coach of No. 11 Ohio State. ``And if I saw a special on the 2002 Ohio State-Michigan classic game, I'd stop on that. I'm sure there are a lot of people that are the same.''
Maybe not as many as he might think. Several media Web sites in Columbus, where the Big Ten is king, have run informal polls in which fans have voted by a 3-to-1 margin that they are unwilling to pay extra to get the Big Ten Network.
CLEANING DAY: There's no escaping cleanup duty for No. 17 Penn State.
Several Nittany Lions were involved in an off-campus fight over the summer that left coach Joe Paterno so steamed he ordered his entire squad to clean up Beaver Stadium after home games this fall, among other punishments.
``We haven't covered any of the details yet,'' linebacker Dan Connor said. ``Just go out there and clean.''
The season opener is Saturday against Florida International, meaning the first cleanup day of the 107,000-seat stadium is Sunday.
DONOVAN ... FOR NOW: Coach Bret Bielema has chosen fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan to open the season as the starting QB for No. 7 Wisconsin, but he won't rule out bringing in junior Allan Evridge if Donovan struggles on Saturday against Washington State.
``Our quarterbacks fully understand that Tyler is our starter, and he's not just there to be yanked if he throws an incomplete pass or if he throws an interception,'' Bielema said. ``But by the same account, everybody in our program realizes every snap counts.''
Both can scramble. Evridge, a Kansas State transfer, might be a better passer but Donovan's experience gives him an edge. He started two games after John Stocco was injured late last season, leading the Badgers to victories at Iowa and at home against Buffalo.
Bielema noted that when he left his office around 10:15 p.m. earlier this week, Donovan was still in the office of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.
SCRIPT C-E-L-I-N-E? Some Big Ten schools, such as Michigan, charge more for big games and less for those against lesser opponents. For instance, a ticket to see the Wolverines host Appalachian State on Saturday costs $50, while home games against rivals such as Ohio State and Notre Dame are $60.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was asked if it is fair that fans should pay the standard $63 for a ticket to Ohio Stadium for Saturday's game against Youngstown State, the Buckeyes' first game against a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) opponent.
``Do I think it's fair? Yeah, I think it's fair,'' Tressel said. ``I've been to a couple concerts and our tickets are very reasonable. I was out in Vegas ... and (wife) Ellen and I went to see Celine Dion, and it was, like, $200. You can go to three Ohio State games for that. And I knew the words to the songs. At least when you go to the game, you don't know what's going to happen.''
QUICK-HITTERS: The rest of the schedule on Saturday includes Illinois against Missouri in St. Louis, Iowa vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago, UAB at Michigan State, Bowling Green at Minnesota, Northeastern at Northwestern, Indiana State at Indiana and Purdue at Toledo. ... Michigan TB Mike Hart was picked as the top offensive player in the conference during preseason media meetings, with Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis the best on defense. Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State were predicted to finish 1-2-3.

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