As the NCAA reported earlier today and the Minnesota Whitecaps tweeted, the Big Ten Network and NCAA agreed to a four year deal in which BTN will carry the 2017 National Championship and add the Frozen Four games in 2018 and beyond.
Big Ten Network is a fairly major network which (by the NCAA’s claim) “reaches 60 million homes nationwide” so this is a pretty big deal for women’s college hockey. It should also bring with it a more professional quality of broadcast than has been available in the past.
However, it introduces some barriers to watching games that used to be streamed for free on NCAA.com. (For (probably not) the last time, having to use a cable login is not free streaming.) Streaming Big Ten Network via BTN Plus will cost $15 for the month’s subscription required to watch all three games. It’s not a lot but it can be a significant amount for a lot of people who watch women’s hockey such as students, independent media, and the members of various marginalized groups that have found a home here watching a sport they love at minimal cost. Hopefully it will be an opportunity to funnel some money into women’s hockey, which free streams don’t provide.
On a positive note, BTN Plus does have apps available for at least Apple and Android devices. This makes it easier to stream on a TV. It also gives some breathing room to those in poor or rural areas that rely on data-capped LTE or satellite internet that has exemptions for various music and video streaming apps.
I also am not sure it’s a good idea to enter into a contract with a network that has a vested interest in promoting only a handful of teams. Only Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are Big Ten teams. It will be interesting to see the level of effort put in by the Big Ten Network should we see a championship game that doesn’t involve one of those four teams.
Hopefully at the end of it all this proves to be a step in the right direction. (Hey, maybe we’ll see a D-1 women’s team from Michigan again soon.)