The Southern Conference couldn't ask for a better matchup for the debut of the SoCon Sports Network on Saturday. Applachian State at Wofford is a clash of top-10 FCS teams and the SoCon co-champions from a year ago.
But how will the eight football games set to be televised on the SoCon Network look? And will fans be able to find them on the network of public-broadcasting stations the league has put together throughout the South? Those questions will begin to be answered at 3 p.m. Saturday, when former voice of The Citadel Bulldogs, Darren Goldwater, opens the first broadcast in Spartanburg.
"We're really excited about it," Goldwater said. "When I first saw the idea on paper a few months ago, with the league going the public TV route, I thought it was a great idea. The SoCon is a league that needs as much exposure as it can get, and now we are in a couple of million more homes than we were before."
SoCon football games were previously carried on a regional Fox Sports feed. But league athletic directors were not satisfied with the Fox arrangement since the network wasn't able to guarantee game windows, wasn't paying a rights fee and wouldn't allow the conference to stream games on its website.
In July, the league announced its three-year deal with a network of PBS stations, which has now reached 77 outlets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and in all reaches some 13 million homes.
All games are set for the 3 p.m. window on Saturdays, and can be simultaneously live-streamed on the internet, including a deal with ESPN3.com
In South Carolina, the games can be seen on SCETV's South Carolina Channel, available on cable and via satellite in most cities.
"The reaction has been very strong from our public TV stations," said SoCon commissioner John Iamarino. "They've been getting good feedback from their viewers, and they like the idea of having the same broadcast window each week.
"I just hope people won't get too frustrated when they are trying to find the games. We've done everything we can to try to get the word out."
A chart showing where to find the games throughout the Southeast is available at www.soconsports.com.
The games will be produced by the SoCon and marketing partner CSE, which is also selling commercial time in the broadcasts.
"It will look like the broadcasts we've had in the past," Iamarino said. "We've got a full production truck, full replays. It will be a five or six-camera shoot, full graphics. I think fans will be pleased with the product."
Unlike the SEC or ACC, which are paid millions of dollars for their TV rights, FCS leagues like the SoCon often have to cobble together their own networks. A network of public TV stations is unusual, but not unheard of.
SCETV has broadcast college football in the past, and Iamarino said the Ivy League had a similar deal with stations in the Northeast years ago. One key to the rise of UConn women's basketball was getting its games on a statewide public network.
"The key is that we are in control, it's our production and we can tailor it to our needs," Iamarino said.
The digital component of the deal is important, as well. With Fox Sports, the SoCon was not able to simultaneously live-stream TV games. Now it can, on ESPN3.com as well as public TV sites, school sites and at soconsports.com.
"I think that's where everything is headed, and what the SoCon is doing is kind of a step ahead," said Goldwater, who will partner with former Marshall running back Doug Chapman for football broadcasts. "ESPN3 is a growing monster, and the online platform is where a lot of this is headed. I think the SoCon is ahead of the curve when it comes to that."
Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC.
Where To Watch
For a list of public TV stations in the SoCon Sports Network, go to this link:
SoCon on TV
The Southern Conference Sports Network on public TV channels throughout the South debuts Saturday. Football games to be televised:
Date Game Time
Saturday App State at Wofford 3 p.m.
Oct. 8 Chattanooga at Ga. Southern 3 p.m.
Oct. 15 Furman at Ga. Southern 3 p.m.
Oct. 22 Chattanooga at Elon 3 p.m.
Oct. 30 Ga. Southern at App State 3 p.m.
Nov. 5 Wofford at W. Carolina 3 p.m.
Nov. 12 Samford at The Citadel 3 p.m.
Nov. 19 App State at Elon 3 p.m.