Big Ten Network Looks to 'Give Big'

In Social-Media Era, a Cable Network Can Make a Difference by Channeling Viewers' Enthusiasm to Worthy Causes

By Published on .

Mark Silverman
Mark Silverman
When the Big Ten Network launched in August 2007, it didn't take us long to realize that being a part of the Big Ten means giving back to the community.

A year later, in August 2008, Iowa was hit with devastating floods, and we sought to help in any way we could. We created public-service announcements, provided a way for people to donate and wound up raising a significant amount to help with relief.

We were proud of our efforts, to be sure, but as we looked to build on them, it was important for us to create a community-service platform that was more proactive than reactive, and one that could inspire service by others. As a different type of cable network, one that doesn't accept any alcohol or gambling ads, we strive to represent the best of our universities, sometimes airing programs not for ratings , but for their impact.

Minnesota Viking Steve Hutchinson, formerly a football star at the University of Michigan, volunteers his time at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
Minnesota Viking Steve Hutchinson, formerly a football star at the University of Michigan, volunteers his time at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
But we weren't sure which cause to get behind. After all, members of the Big Ten already make tremendous contributions to virtually every aspect of their communities. There isn't an effort to fight a social ill or cure a disease with which the conference's students, alumni and faculty aren't already deeply involved.

After a lot of thought, we realized that, as a cable network in the social-media era, we had all the tools necessary to channel the enthusiasm and school spirit of our growing audience toward some of these established causes to increase their exposure, volunteers and contributions, while also inspiring others to serve.

So we recently launched Give Big , a community-service initiative that begins with a segment during our "Big Ten Tailgate" show, which visits a different campus each week during football season. Each weekly segment will profile a remarkable service effort by someone connected to the university on "Tailgate."

We'll promote these efforts on Facebook, Twitter and a dedicated microsite, where we'll share how viewers can get involved in these causes while also soliciting their suggestions on who we might honor in the future. Our goal is to spark an ongoing dialogue about community service that inspires our viewers to become involved.

Some of the initial profile subjects are famous athletes such as NFL star Charles Woodson, a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Michigan who, along with former teammates, remains committed to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, and NBA All-Star Devin Harris, a University of Wisconsin basketball standout who runs the 34 Ways to Assist Foundation, a remarkable foundation dedicated to giving youth educational assistance, guidance, and a safe place to play.

Some are campus institutions, such as Penn State's Sue Paterno, wife of longtime football coach Joe Paterno, who will be featured for her work with Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, and University of Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber, who will be featured as a representative of the conference's support of Coaches vs. Cancer.

Others are less well known but doing equally important work that, we hope, will gain contributions of time and money from the exposure we're able to provide.

If you'd like to learn more about their stories, please visit

Mark Silverman is president of the Big Ten Network.
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