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Missouri Valley football further cements relationship with ESPN3

FARGO -- While the major college football conferences are figuring out how many millions each school will receive from television rights, the Missouri Valley Football Conference is going down another road when it comes to airing games. The league...

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Chris Fowler and former NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen point to the cameras during the final segment of the broadcast of ESPN College GameDay on Sept. 13, 2014, in Fargo. (FNS Photo by David Samson)

FARGO -- While the major college football conferences are figuring out how many millions each school will receive from television rights, the Missouri Valley Football Conference is going down another road when it comes to airing games. The league is betting the future of internet streaming is now.

More than 50 games played by a Valley member this fall will be available on ESPN3, the online streaming service that is now accessible almost anywhere there is a TV with an internet connection and smartphones, laptops or tablets. It appears those days of ESPN3 ambiguity are starting to come into focus with viewers.

"In the early days we were trying to educate people on where to find it and what it was," said Mike Kern, the associate commissioner for Missouri Valley football. "Now everybody knows what ESPN3 is."

The league does not benefit financially from the agreement and certainly it's a far cry from say, the Big Ten Conference, which accumulated about $250 million from various media sources in 2014, according to figures compiled by the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette newspaper. It's more about exposure for the Valley.

"Exposure is what we're shooting for," Kern said. "I think our coaches will tell you the importance of reaching potential recruits and being on the same network for everything. You can tell everybody every one of your games will be on ESPN3 all year, and the fan base is now educated enough to find it."

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North Dakota State will have nine games on ESPN3 with the Aug. 27 opener against Charleston Southern on ESPN. The Iowa game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

In addition, the league is partnering with ESPN3 to produce eight conference games as part of its 2016 Game of the Week package. The Valley previously partnered with Mediacom.

"It's the most far-reaching package we've had thus far and the numbers are pretty good in terms of viewership," Kern said. "It helps to have the playoffs on a network where people are accustomed to our content."

All 2015 FCS playoff games were either on ESPN3, ESPN2 or the main network. The Montana at NDSU second-round game was the most-viewed FCS game of the season, Kern said. An attempt to reach ESPN to get those figures was immediately unsuccessful.

A byproduct of all 10 Valley schools being video-equipped is instant replay, which will be utilized for all 40 league games for the first time. The conference approved it two years ago but gave a few members some time to install the necessary infrastructure like the right kind of cables. South Dakota State, for instance, didn't have the capability because it was in the process of building a new stadium.

"There were games we had it and games we didn't have it and you noticed when it wasn't there," Kern said. "We need to be the leader not only on the field, but in technology."

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