For collegiate sports other than football and men’s basketball, national television coverage has traditionally been reason for celebration, coming as the result of a deep postseason run.
Even for a Division I school such as UCLA, week-to-week television fanfare has been all but nonexistent for 20 of its 22 teams, with nothing short of hoisting a national championship trophy garnering national TV coverage.
Women’s volleyball, UCLA’s sole national champion during the 2011-2012 school year, had its semifinal and final matches broadcast on ESPN2 last December but was showcased in just two tape-delayed games on Fox Sports Net during the regular season.
A new year, however, offers newfound exposure for a number of UCLA’s tradition-rich sports programs. In 2011, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott unveiled the Pac-12 Networks, which have been launched for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Utilizing a national network, online streaming and six regional stations ““ including a Los Angeles regional feed shared by UCLA and USC ““ the Pac-12 Networks intend to cover more than 800 live sporting events each year, revolutionizing the ways that many of these sports are covered.
The UCLA women’s soccer team, for example, will have nine games broadcasted on the Pac-12 networks this year, compared to not having a single game televised last season.
“It’s definitely a huge impact,” said senior midfielder Chelsea Cline. “More people are going to be aware of different college sports, especially our team, and I think it can build the bigger fan base that women’s sports need.”
In addition, 14 of UCLA’s regular season women’s volleyball matches are scheduled to be televised this fall, setting the Pac-12 Networks up as one of the world’s sole hotspots for coverage of sports that continue to grow in popularity among young women.
Increased UCLA volleyball coverage will provide viewers with an exciting sports culture that is rarely seen in the four years between the Summer Olympics.
“I think when people think of volleyball on TV they automatically think of beach volleyball,” said Tabi Love, a senior outside hitter for the volleyball team. “But I think that once people do watch it (indoor) they’ll realize how exciting it is.”
“Especially with the commentary that the Pac-12 (Network) has been having … I think it’s going to make people respect the sport a lot more, especially the women’s game.”
High-quality commentary has been a major selling point for the still-developing series of networks. A number of UCLA alumni, including National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Cobi Jones and former Olympic beach volleyball player Holly McPeak, have provided analysis for the teams they once played on.
As for men’s water polo, the Pac-12 Networks provide an opportunity to build nationwide interest for what has mainly been a California-dominated sport. International competition sees TV time during the Olympics, but collegiate water polo has been limited to the occasional Internet stream over the years.
UCLA, the national runner-up in men’s water polo last year, will have three games televised on the Pac-12 Networks this season against its three biggest rivals ““ Cal, Stanford and USC. The four teams have long been at the top of the sport, combining to win the last 14 national championships.
“I definitely think it’s a big thing for the sport in general,” said junior defender Chris Wendt. “The younger generation of kids will see it on TV and hopefully learn from watching the games … and expand the amount of people playing water polo because that’s what it’s all about.”
“We were already looking forward to those games and we’re looking forward to them even more now that they’re on TV.”
With the DISH Network agreeing to a long-term broadcast contract earlier this month, the Pac-12 Networks, along with UCLA’s viewing audience, continue to grow.
This growth is something that Love, a 2011 Minnesota transfer who is familiar with the efforts of the Big Ten Network, is excited to see in her new conference.
“I think it was great that the Big Ten had been doing it and I think it’s about time we got some coverage here,” Love said. “I think it’s going to be a great new look for the program.”