Yes kids, believe it or not there was once a time when every important sporting event was available for free on regular television. Even Muhammad Ali heavyweight boxing matches. Free. On television. Of course we only had three channels back then (four, including PBS) and changing the channels meant getting up, walking over to the television and grabbing this big silver knob that you cranked around. Thump. Thump. Thump.

I own the airwaves. You do too. We the people own the damn airwaves in America. Big companies like CBS, ABC, Fox, etc. use them to air entertainment and news ‘for the public good.’ These companies earn revenue selling time on these airwaves in the form of advertising. But still, the broadcasts are free to anyone with an antenna. And for a few decades, we saw all of the important sporting events – free.

We got cable in 1980. Back when it first came out. It was crude, but intriguing. And some of the movie channels showed nudity. Which was like, unbelievably cool. But I digress, when ESPN launched and TBS started airing Braves games – the world changed. Little did we know that it was the beginning of a dark and evil era in American sports television.

Remember that part about owning the airwaves? Well, we don’t own cable like we own the air. As a result, media companies can charge whatever they want for their broadcasts, which are bundled with a range of (irrelevant) programming (by companies who still time to advertisers) and then sold to you as a package. Programming that includes sports.

After years of rising cable prices, when we were watching less and less TV, I finally killed cable television and bought an HD antenna. And it works well, but for some sports. However, I stream the internet to our television (which is just a dumb monitor, after all) so I get to see the sports I care about. But this year during the NCAA football bowl season I was unable to watch any of the BCS games. They were all on ESPN. Could I have paid to join ESPNs online programming to watch them? Sure. But I didn’t. I shouldn’t have to. It’s the NCAA. Those kids play for free. I should be able to watch them for free. Then last weekend during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament round of Sweet 16, I was unable to watch either North Carolina basketball team compete. CBS, the company who broadcasts the tournament, opted to show games on the local (NC) affiliate that didn’t feature the local (NC) teams. The only way we could watch those games was to have TBS (cable programming) or pay CBS online. But I didn’t. I shouldn’t have to. It’s the NCAA.

I don’t necessarily blame cable, but rather the bloodthirsty NCAA. They’re the organization that has sold out to cable – ripping live sports played by amateurs out of our televisions and into the hands of evil men who lay cable across the land. Fuck you NCAA. I live in North Carolina. When there’s a Sweet 16 match that includes a team from NC it’s your responsibility to show these games for FREE to the people who send their children to these schools.

When did sports in America get hijacked? I’ll tell you when – back in the early 80s when ESPN was airing Australian Rules Football. Back then, we laughed at that sport. What were they doing and why would anyone pay for cable to watch? We had real sports on television. For free. And it was good. But now we’ve got to pay. It’s not unlike buying a magazine full of ads for one story you like. Magazines should be free too. Fuck you magazines.


Jim Mitchem


A Meteor Fell on our House!

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.