It begins with the question. Or maybe it's The Question: Why do we watch sports?
It's impossible, really, to answer it objectively. We all have our preferences. But if there's any place to gather on the village green, maybe it's here: We all appreciate the unwritten script. Drama. Who makes the big shot? Who gets the big hit?
It is for this reason that perhaps fans should weep not for Connecticut Public Television, recently victimized by State U's business decision to take it women's basketball broadcasts elsewhere. This much we know: CPTV has the sympathy of most state sports fans, or at least the ones who value loyalty. They still want to watch and be supportive.
As CPTV's 18-year foray with UConn ended, its sporting arm, CPTV Sports, began its partnership with the Connecticut Sun this season for 24 games. And while nobody should be naïve enough to believe CPTV could match the revenue it earned from 18 years of sweat with UConn, the Sun experiment has more than a puncher's chance at success.
Here is why: Because of why we watch sports.
The Sun's weekend sweep of the New York Liberty is Exhibit A.
Both games were undecided well into the fourth period. Most WNBA games follow the script. As the Sun and Liberty were tied late Saturday, I turned to John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant and said, "don't you wish we could watch this all winter, too?"
Translation: It's so much more fun to watch 75-75 with two minutes left than UConn's conga line of 40-point snoozers. That's not a knock at UConn's excellence. But the fact remains: Most of their games are over just after the Star Spangled Banner. Not so with the Sun. Even Sunday's 92-77 victory was 69-67 with 7:50 left.
More people in Connecticut watched Sunday's game than any other Sun game in the history of the franchise. Not because there were 7,118 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena. But because CPTV Sports televised its first regular season game.
Every cable system in Connecticut except one - MetroCast - carries CPTV Sports. That means many eyes were where they'd never been before. (Note to MetroCast: No reason for this. Let's go. Chop, chop).
"The way our people look at it, we might lose some fans who stay home and watch, but it's a non-stop commercial for our team," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "That will draw people. If you want to jump on our bandwagon, we'll take any late comers. … In general, sports fans, and I don't mean this the wrong way, want to be around a winning situation. They want to be at the 'in' place. If we keep winning, we'll be the 'in' thing to do."
Only time will determine how "in" the Sun become. Just as only time will determine whether there is a true backlash to UConn's business decision. A spate of recent emails, however, indicate that perhaps some fans are ready to give the Sun a chance.
One reader writes: "I will not be watching any UConn games on SNY, period, and my vote carries more weight than most. My house is a Nielsen ratings house. I speak for 25,000 viewers. I will watch UConn games on ESPN ... and I will watch Sun games on CPTV ... and maybe, just maybe, my little piece of the protest will make a difference."
Monroe attorney Alfred A. Fressola of Ware, Fressola, Van Der Sluys & Adolphson LLP sent an open letter to UConn president Susan Herbst, which, in part, read: "The University of Connecticut is a public institution, supported by Connecticut taxpayers. It does not make sense to disenfranchise many of these people … many of the fans of UConn women's basketball are older people in our state who may or may not have the capability to view SNY (if) their cable or satellite provider does not provide SNY (e.g. Dish Network)."
Reader David Fowler, who said in a subsequent conversation he'd be coming to Mohegan Sun this summer, wrote: "I don't want to come across as the world's angriest guy … (but) I no longer will support UConn basketball until several things start to change. The trouble is, are there enough other people ready to find the guts and the principles to make THEIR business decisions to the point where it starts costing UConn money? I doubt it. But that's what it's going to take."
I have no idea whether this is a vocal minority or whether the aforementioned writers, and the roughly 100 others who wrote here and echoed their views, represent a small, subtle beginning of a shift in preference. This much I know, though: The Sun games are more entertaining.
"You can't help but watch this team and not enjoy seeing how they play," Thibault said. "They play the game the right way. They may drive me crazy, but as a coach, I want them to be perfect. But the effort we give, the tempo, the unselfishness … it's not perfect. We're getting a whole lot better, though. I think fans who are casual observers would say, 'that's pretty good.'"
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.