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TV Deal Not In Cards For CAA

HARRISONBURG — Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Joe D’Antonio is confident his football league members and their fans will appreciate the different ways they’ll be able to watch games come fall.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of communicating with all 12 of our football members,” D’Antonio said, “about what their wants, needs and desires are relative to their local television package and what the conference can offer, and I think all of the fan bases will be happy when they see the schedule.”

D’Antonio is in town for the CAA softball tournament, which wraps today at Veterans Memorial Park.

It took until last August before the league landed a two-year contract with CBS Sports Digital, which exclusively streams a Game of the Week for football and men’s basketball on College Sports Live online and the College Sports Live mobile app.

At the time of the announced deal, which runs through the 2018-19 season, James Madison athletic director Jeff Bourne said “it was frustrating” for the Dukes football team to only be featured once during the Game of the Week package for the 2017 season.

Bourne eventually put together a seven-game television package for JMU. Four games aired on MASN or MASN2, two were on Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic Plus and the other was a Cox Communication product seen on WHSV My Valley. Bourne worked with Delaware so that JMU’s road matchup with the Blue Hens could be seen.

Since then, D’Antonio said, the league office has worked on how to help its football programs achieve its various traditional television or digital goals for 2018.

“Some institutions want to produce local linear games,” D’Antonio said. “And I know that’s something that JMU did last year and might be interested in doing again this year. We have other institutions in that boat as well, and we have some of our football institutions that are not interested in doing local linear and they’re more interested in doing a national digital production.

“So I think the difference between last year and this year that’s put us in a really good position football wise is that we have had time on our side to understand what everybody’s wants, needs and desires are whereas last year, because of the fact that we were not able to finalize some of these deals a little late in the game, we were not able to get as creative as we’re going to be able to get this year.”

He said there likely wouldn’t be a league-wide regional television package for the upcoming season.

“The nature of the business right now is dictating that if we are to have another linear deal that we’re not going to find somebody that is going to pay production costs,” D’Antonio said. “And the conference office cannot pay production costs for a linear TV production. We don’t have the funding for that and that’s not how the business model works.”

The CAA announced its full 2017 television and digital football package in September.

D’Antonio said beyond 2018-19, after its current contract with CBS Sports Digital expires, that the CAA would look at all of its options, including renewing with CBS Sports Digital to exploring newer streaming options like ESPN Plus and Stadium.

“We’re going to need to get through this year and understand the impact [CBS Sports Digital is] having on our viewership and membership as a whole,” he said. “And then, certainly collectively, make some decisions from there.

“The good news again is that the conference, at the end of next year, aside from its men’s and women’s lacrosse rights, will again have all of its rights in-house and we can make any decision that we want to at that point.”

Football In 'Good Place'

D’Antonio said the state of CAA football is “in a really good place.”

“It’s evident annually with the number of teams we are getting in the playoffs,” he said.

In 2017, four CAA programs — JMU, New Hampshire, Stony Brook and Elon — reached the postseason, marking the 10th time in league history that it sent at least four teams to the playoffs. At least three CAA teams have made the tournament in 12 straight years.

JMU has appeared in back-to-back national championship games, winning it all in 2016 and falling in January to North Dakota State.

“I thought last year we had a shot at getting five in,” D’Antonio said. “It didn’t work, but I think we’ll continue to have that same goal going forward. We want to put as many teams into the postseason as we possibly can.”

CAA teams will play 12 games against FBS schools and Delaware will play at North Dakota State in non-conference play in 2018.

JMU opens at N.C. State on Sept. 1.

“I do think it’s positive for us to continue to play FBS games,” D’Antonio said. “Many of our institutions do and we’ve been fortunate, especially here at JMU, to have some FBS wins which is great for the conference, but also can be a huge feather in the cap of the institution that gets that win.

“So scheduling is not a concern that I have relative to our schools. I think they’re doing a great job right now in understanding the matrix that it takes to get into the playoffs.”