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Are You Ready For Some Football On Public TV?

College football will be shown on television this fall. Nothing unusual about that - except that public television stations are getting in the game. The Southern Conference has worked out a deal with UNC-TV, South Carolina ETV and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino said when he pitched the idea of college football on public television, he was met with strange looks from, well, everyone. "As recently as when I went to see our attorney who's working on the agreement, he said, 'you're going to do what?'" Iamarino said. Iamarino said it's an outside-the-box idea, but it makes sense for the Southern Conference. Its football teams compete in the NCAA's second tier, called the Football Championship Subdivision. The conference has a national powerhouse in Appalachian State, which won three straight national championships a few years ago. Still, the conference is way too small to get the billion-dollar TV deals that are customary for the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference. But Iamarino said a deal with public TV stations in the Carolinas and Georgia guarantees regional exposure for the Southern Conference. "We certainly think it's going to get some eyeballs to public television that perhaps they were not drawing in the past," Iamarino said. Starting in October, UNC-TV, South Carolina ETV and Georgia Public Broadcasting will air the Southern Conference's game-of-the-week each Saturday. The conference will cover all the production costs, and Iamarino said it may give students from the competing schools a chance to work on the broadcasts. The conference and the public TV stations will split the sponsor breaks, but the conference will retain the rights to the broadcasts. UNC-TV Communications Director Steve Volstad says college sports and public TV aren't exactly strangers. "While it's not typically what people think of when they think: public broadcasting," Volstad chuckled, "there's some precedent for it." Volstad said it's worked well in Connecticut, where the powerhouse UCONN women's basketball team has played on public TV for years. And UNC-TV showed some college sports when it first started in the 1950s. Three North Carolina schools play football in the Southern Conference: Appalachian State, Elon and Western Carolina. Valsted says that gives UNC-TV a chance to tap into a new audience. "There's I think a significant audience for these games, and we thought it was an opportunity to expand our service in a way that we hadn't gotten into much before," Volstad said. The first game on public TV is October 1. It'll be rematch between last season's Southern Conference co-champions, Appalachian State and Wofford.