Don’t sleep on Big Ten Network as conference expands its broadcast empire
“I know there’s been a lot of focus on Fox, CBS, NBC, but we’re still going to be as involved as we’ve ever been,” said Dave Revsine, the lead studio host for Chicago-based BTN.
The Big Ten’s new media-rights deal has garnered a lot of attention since it was announced last week. Anything with a reported price tag of more than $8 billion will do that. And the deal’s broadcast partners have reveled in its culmination.
Meanwhile, the conference’s namesake cable network has been waving a hand in the air and saying, ‘‘Hey, don’t forget about us.’’
‘‘I know there’s been a lot of focus on Fox, CBS, NBC, but we’re still going to be as involved as we’ve ever been,’’ said Dave Revsine, the lead studio host for the Chicago-based Big Ten Network. ‘‘The increased volume of adding teams really helps us. We’ll have a ton of events and will remain the home for the Big Ten fan.’’
UCLA and USC won’t arrive until 2024, the second year of the seven-year deal. But BTN still will deliver a full slate of football, basketball and Olympic sports. The network kicks off its football schedule Saturday, with Illinois hosting Wyoming at 3 p.m. Play-by-play voice Brandon Gaudin, analyst Joshua Perry and reporter Rick Pizzo will call the game.
Revsine, a Glenbrook North and Northwestern graduate, will host a half-hour pregame show a few days shy of BTN’s 15th anniversary. It launched Aug. 30, 2007, and as confident as Revsine was in his decision to leave ESPN for the nascent network, even he couldn’t fathom the impact it would have.
‘‘I don’t think I really understood that it was going to change the entire landscape of college sports, and I think it has,’’ said Revsine, 53. ‘‘[Former commissioner] Jim Delany basically looked ESPN in the eye and said, ‘I’m gonna go start my own network.’ [ESPN says], ‘Well, that would be a roll of the dice.’ And that famous quote, he says, ‘Consider them rolled.’
‘‘I don’t think anyone would have envisioned that not only would the Big Ten Network happen and succeed, but that essentially everyone else would copy the idea.’’
BTN has gained traction with its programming, particularly Revsine’s crew, which includes studio analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, an Illinois alum. Revsine saw that firsthand when he visited a high school friend in Alaska.
‘‘A Nebraska fan comes up to me in Anchorage, he was like, ‘I want to let you know how important the Big Ten Network is to me because it is my lifeline to the Huskers,’ ’’ Revsine said. ‘‘ ‘Here I am living in Anchorage, and I get to watch the Huskers because of you.’
‘‘These universities are so national. It’s more so when we’re in Iowa City or Lincoln or Madison, but it happens everywhere. It’s really cool.’’
BTN’s Saturday pregame show ‘‘B1G Tailgate,’’ which returns Sept. 3, will have a new look. Revsine, DiNardo and Griffith will be in studio, and Mike Hall will co-host from a different Big Ten campus each week with analysts Brock Vereen and Anthony Herron.
‘‘I’m excited for Mike,’’ said Revsine, who also hosts ‘‘Big Ten Today’’ on weekdays. ‘‘He’ll love being on the road. He’s really good. I just think it fits who he is. He’s a fun guy, and being on campus is fun. I think he’ll really flourish in that role.’’
Revsine’s role as the face of BTN will continue, but there will be more faces of Big Ten sports starting in 2023, thanks to the new media deal. When it comes to football, however, remember that there will be games aside from those on Fox, CBS and NBC.
‘‘It’s not like there will be just one game in those windows; there will be multiple games in those windows,’’ Revsine said, pointing to FS1, as well. ‘‘So the fact that you’ll be able to watch your league without fail every Saturday from the first kickoff to the end of the day, I do think that speaks to the power of the league.’’
Dave Revsine shared observations on Illinois and Northwestern gleaned from BTN’s bus tour of conference campuses:
“They’re really well-coached. I’m really interested to see the offense. [Coach Bret Bielema] probably played it close to the vest when our cameras where there. But I’m interested to see what they do offensively. [Offensive coordinator] Barry Lunney is not a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of guy. He’s different from what Bret was at Wisconsin and to a certain extent at Arkansas. I’m guessing that their offense will be a little more wide open and exciting and up-tempo, if Barry Lunney has done what he’s done historically, certainly what he did at UTSA. [Defensive coordinator] Ryan Walters did an unbelievable job last year. I think they went from 97th in the nation in scoring defense to 29th. That’s a significant jump with [Lovie Smith’s] guys. These were not players he recruited, and frankly, they weren’t very good under Lovie. Now all of a sudden, when they recruit the guys that fit what they want to do, I think the arrow is pointing up in a big way. I’m excited about Illinois. They have had a really bad decade. Shockingly bad.”
“I’m going to be interested to see if the defense improves. That was a huge drop-off last year. You could always count on when Mike Hankwitz was there they were going to have a good defense. They’d be in the right place. Whether they’d always make the tackle, who knows. But they would be really well-coached. They just didn’t appear to be last year. Literally, from the first play of the season, Kenneth Walker of Michigan State taking it the distance for a touchdown and they didn’t seal the edge and they gave up a ton of big plays; they never gave up big plays in the past. So that part was stunning, that they would have that big a drop-off. So I think there’s a lot of pressure on [defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil]. He didn’t have a great track record in the NFL of coordinating great defenses. So we’ll see whether they’re able to figure that out. And then the other variable for them is quarterback play. They’ve had good quarterbacks. Now it’s just been inconsistent. After Clayton Thorson left, it was a huge black hole for a year. They brought in Peyton Ramsey for one year, and he was really good, they won the West. Last year, they had bad quarterback play again. It used to be the one variable, quarterback play. Now you’ve got the two variables of will the defense be better.”