Welcome to the fourth day of our experiment. Here are the rules: No live sports, no news wrap-ups, no talk shows, no documentaries, no pregame or postgame cacklefests. Nothing but a computer and a phone to get through the week.
Day Four: NCAA
If there's one subgenre of sport that translates both incredibly well and incredibly poorly to online broadcast, it's college sports. On one hand, an online feed connects you to your alma mater wherever you are, no matter how far you've strayed from campus and how many years you've put on the odometer since your hazy college days. On the other hand, college sports are a visceral, communal experience, and watching your beloved team on a tiny streaming screen robs the game of the marching-band/boozed-up student section pageantry we all love so much.
Which is not to say that you should avoid college sports on the Internet. On the contrary, the Internet was made for college sports. (Also: national defense. But mostly college sports.) Put aside the hyper-obsessive college-specific blogs and the rabid anarchy of their associated message boards. We can sum up the joy of college sports on the Internet with just two words:
There was a time -- 2007 or so -- when you had to fake sick to bail on work and catch those early games on the Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament. Not anymore, friends! Thanks to CBS Sports' streaming of every single game in the Round of 64, you can pore over your bracket from the moment of tipoff. No more waiting until the workday's done to see Cincinnati lost and screwed your entire East bracket. No more watching scores tick away online and missing out on that unbelievable victory-from-defeat half-courter that'll be replayed for the next two weeks. It's a server-crashing beacon of sports perfection, and it's got to be the most popular online sports viewing time of the entire year.
The regular season isn't quite so dramatic, of course. This being college sports, everybody looks out for themselves, and to heck with every other conference. The Big Ten has its own network on which you can watch everything from football and basketball to volleyball and soccer.
The SEC, meanwhile, has struck a deal with CBS to broadcast games online that are being broadcast on TV, in the event that you're out of market. Other conferences have similar arrangements, either through national or local providers. (Low-tech fun: go to your college's website and find the radio feed. Listen in for ads of law firms and bars familiar from your college days. Try not to weep at the direction your life's taken.) Best bet here isESPN3.com, which offers dozens of out-of-market major-sport games every week across all conferences and divisions.
But where college athletics really shine on the Internet is in digging below the Game of the Week. For instance, I attended the College of William & Mary, a fine academic institution whose football program was once, according to legend, derided by one-time coach Lou Holtz as staffed with “more Marys than Williams.” While the team regularly makes the I-AA (or FCS, whatever) playoffs, its games generally aren't broadcast outside the local southeast Virginia market.
And were I interested in more than football and basketball, I'd be in luck, too. Online streaming gives colleges the ability to put the non-marquee sports out for the world to see, too. So depending on your college's technological savvy and conference muscle, you can keep up with lacrosse, baseball or wrestling at your alma mater.
Best part of it all? You can scope out everything that's going on in your college athletics department without looking like the creepy old guy hanging around school too long. On the Internet, everyone's a Big Man on Campus.
Consult your school's athletic department page for specific streaming details.
Since the days of Magic and Bird, the NBA has followed a simple formula: Determine the sport's most marketable stars, hail them as gods, then force them down everyone's throat on a weekly basis. You can draw a direct line from Jordan to Shaq to Kobe to LeBron, and once the NBA season starts, you never have to go more than a few days without seeing at least one of them on TV.
Much like baseball and hockey, the NBA has a subscription model allowing you access to up to 40 games per week. You can also purchase tiers of service; broadband-only is $64.95 for the season, while mobile-only is $29.99. (Thirty bucks to watch the NBA on your phone!)
Like baseball and hockey, blackout rules apply, and like those sports, it's kind of a “you'll know when you're blacked out because you'll be blacked out” situation. But hey, you don't want to watch your same team every single game, do you? Kobe! LeBron! Dwyane! Durant! Plenty of candy elsewhere!
ESPN holds a big chunk of the NBA pie, and it's happy to dole out bites of that pie as well. The Sunday-Monday-Wednesday-Friday games on ESPN are simulcast on ESPN3.com, though you don't have quite the same replay opportunity that you have with League Pass. ESPN games don't get the League Pass treatment.
Wednesday night, I flipped among 13 games, most of which were on League Pass, and the Lakers-Mavericks game on ESPN. And oh, I very nearly quit my job and left my family to dive deep into the glory of the NBA. It's not that the games were that great – only two, Philly/Orlando and Memphis/New Orleans, were really any good -- it's just that they were all there, all available. You know how the final five minutes of any basketball game are usually the only part of the game worth watching? Now you can actually do that, game after game, night after night. It's bliss.
-- Day Three: MLB, Tennis.
-- Day Two: NHL, NASCAR.
-- Day One: NFL, Golf.