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Tracking down Duke basketball

March Madness officially began this past weekend, so I should have been in a sports fan's heaven. But of course that wasn't the case.

The Big Dance - otherwise known as the NCAA tournament - begins today with 65 of the best teams in the country striving to make it to college basketball's premier weekend, the Final Four.

The "madness" started with the conference tournaments and teams having to play three or even four basketball games in a row to be crowned league champion and earn an automatic bid to the dance.

Yearly tradition dictates that my father and I plop down in front of ESPN all weekend to keep up with our favorite team, the Duke Blue Devils, on their way to yet another Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Since they've been ranked No. 1 in the polls most of the season and dominated one of the toughest conferences in the country for the past decade, we thought their games would be difficult to avoid on the airways. How wrong we were.

We fell victim to what amounts to a cable conspiracy this past weekend. Instead of allowing the total sports network to air the ACC tournament like it always does, a certain local station that can only be received by a select few decided it would broadcast the tournament around here.

That decision led to an ESPN blackout of its coverage locally; instead it ran the ESPN News channel during the game. This of course caused a frantic search through all the cable channels and phone calls to everyone we knew to see if they could get the game.

Then came the call to the cable company. It went something like this:

"I was wondering why ESPN is showing the news channel instead of the ACC tournament. Would you know the answer to that?" I asked.

"Yes, it's because WBEK is broadcasting those games locally. It's on channel 103," was the reply.

"But we don't get channel 103."

"Sure you do."

"That's only available on digital cable, right?"

"That's right."

"We don't get digital cable."

"Oh, then you won't be able to watch that game."

What? Not be able to watch Duke win its seventh ACC title in eight years. I don't think so.

We finally determined that it was the cable company's way of forcing sports fans to make the switch to the more expensive version of their product. I got news for them. It ain't happening.

I learned well to adapt and improvise in my career, so I pulled out the laptop and found a website that updates the scores live with a text version of scoring plays. That wasn't good enough for a game of this importance though, so I made a second effort that paid off well enough.

There is this newfangled thing called internet radio. I found a site broadcasting both a Durham-based station's call of the game - which cost money - as well as a Boston-based one that was free.

So during the second half of the championship game, we listened to a couple of Boston College fans call the game and whine about Duke getting help from the referees. But at least it was audio play-by-play.

I said after the game that I should have told the cable company their little trick wasn't going to make my Dad buy their upgrade just to watch the games he wants. What it would make him do is trade in his cable box for a satellite dish.

Web posted on Thursday, March 16, 2006

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