Finally, some potentially good news for N’West Iowa residents who miss seeing the boys high school championship events on television.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association has hired a new athletic director, and according to IHSAA board of control member Rod Earleywine of Sergeant Bluff-Luton, one of the major bullet points Tom Keating will take on right away is finding ways to improve the television contract for IHSAA tournament events.
Earleywine, who is the vice chair of the board of control and the Sergeant Bluff-Luton School District superintendent, said that was made abundantly clear to every candidate for the executive director post during a nationwide search for a replacement for Alan Beste, who has announced he will retire at the end of the school year.
“That is being addressed,” Earleywine said. “One of the things the new director will be taking on is to do his very best to make improvements in our TV coverage. It was a topic of conversation in every interview. In fact it was the top bullet point on the list of items each candidate was told they would have to handle.”
Earleywine said the search turned up 12 individuals who completed the application. Each candidate was thoroughly vetted, then the list was whittled down to four finalists. Each of the candidates was brought to Boone the week before the boys basketball state tournament to interview, speak with the staff and tour the facilities. Final interviews were conducted during the state basketball tournament.
Despite having two teams — Boyden-Hull and Rock Valley, involved in the Class 2A boys basketball state tournament last week, most N’West Iowans were not able to view the games without making the trip to Des Moines. The IHSAA signed away the broadcast rights to the Iowa High School Sports Network, which then made a subsequent deal with Comcast Sports Net, which is now NBC Sports Chicago. That channel is widely available on cable systems in the eastern third of the state, but central and western Iowa are largely locked out.
The IHSAA’s deal with the IHSSN lasts until 2029, but the IHSSN’s current contract with NBC Sports Chicago expires at the end of the 2018-19 school sports schedule.
“We need to do our very best to make improvements in the broadcast deal,” Earleywine said. “It’s not acceptable that a large chunk of our state is cut out. We’ve always had lots of people in this state that love athletics and have been big supporters of the IHSAA and the IGHSAU for many years. Some of those people don’t want to travel, but still want to watch all the games. For them not to be able to do so is unacceptable.”
Earleywine said another item on the list of bullet points was the public image of the IHSAA. He said that has taken a hit in recent years, and it’s largely traceable to the broadcast contract situation.
“We talked to the candidates a lot about the importance of public relations,” he said. “We really need to improve our brand and just how we are portrayed throughout the state. It’s not good right now, and most of it relates back to the television deal.”
Earleywine is confident the IHSAA has found the right man for the job.
“Mr. Keating isn’t from here, but he’s been in Iowa for a very long time starting with his time at Simpson,” he said. “As a teacher, a coach, an activities director, a principal and a president, he’s a proven leader in a lot of different venues.”
Mr. Earleywine is certainly saying all the right things. He used the word “unacceptable” to describe the current broadcast deal at least three times in our conversation. I’m sure Mr. Keating will say the right things too. The IHSAA can be a powerful ally in this battle.
Apparently, state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) got the organization’s attention when he proposed a bill with the idea of forcing the IHSAA and IGHSAU in their current form to disband and form one group. Feenstra said it was the broadcast deal that drew his attention to the situation.
The bottom line, however, is that the person Feenstra, the IHSAA and all of us need to be putting pressure on is Ken Krogman.
The head of the IHSSN sold out two-thirds of the state when he negotiated the deal with NBC Sports Chicago. He needs to get the message as he enters a new round of negotiations that status quo just won’t due in this case.
The entire state has a vested interest in high school activities. For a good portion of us to not be able to see championship events is indeed unacceptable.