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August 22, 2014

McCready: Friday more than a trivia answer

OXFORD, Miss. -- Olivia Harrison admitted she had some nerves prior to Friday night's season opener against Georgia.

Ole Miss' junior forward/midfielder had never played in a more publicized, more anticipated soccer game in her life. Harrison answered the call, scoring the tying game in Ole Miss' 1-1 draw with Georgia in front of the largest soccer crowd in school history (1,823).

In so doing, Harrison added her name to a list of trivia answers. She scored the second goal in SEC Network history on a night when the network was televising its first live event.

"It was an overwhelming feeling," Harrison said. "We came out with a lot of intensity and we had a lot of nerves, but we got those out in the first five minutes. It was a great way to open the season. I wish every game were like this, honestly."

The Collierville, Tenn., native said having a national television audience Friday night was "fantastic," adding that it's good to see her teammates' hard work be recognized.

Harrison won't have to wait so long to get more recognition. Friday night's game was televised into some 90 million homes. Future games that aren't televised on the network itself will be shown on ESPN's digital arm, WatchESPN.

"Just to have the content there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, our name, our sport, all that out there is unbelievable," Ole Miss senior associate athletics director/communications and marketing Michael Thompson said. "To watch it start from the beginning and then to have it be here, it's pretty bizarre. It's like a child in some ways. You plan for it for so long, work on it for so long and then meet about it so many times, now it's actually here. It's kind of bizarre."

The SEC Network launched on Aug. 14. Over the next calendar year, it will televise more than 1,000 events, including 45 football games, 160 basketball games and 75 baseball games. Friday's soccer game was a bit of a tune-up, in all likelihood, for Thursday's football doubleheader featuring South Carolina hosting Texas A&M and Temple visiting Vanderbilt.

That didn't do anything to minimize the importance of Friday's event.

"I'm not sure it could have been any more perfect other than us getting one more goal," Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said. "We'll take a tie and now we're tied for first place in the SEC. I thought it went great. …I'm glad they asked us to do it."

More importantly, Friday was symbolic for Ole Miss and the rest of the SEC. The league, already a national power, is now a brand second only to the NFL.

"When they planned this, the commissioner (Mike Slive) told us he thought by Year Three it might be fully distributed," Bjork said. "So we're missing one cable company of the top 10 cable companies in the country. So essentially we're fully distributed.

"In a way we're surprised it happened so fast, but in a way, you're not surprised at the value of the SEC. You combine the SEC and ESPN, and it really just exploded. It really snowballed in mid-summer. It's amazing for our conference and really for each school, to have platforms like this, it's unbelievable."

League sources haven't really hazarded a guess at the value of the SEC Network so far. Stabs in the proverbial dark range from $6 million to $30 million per school in the first year. No one knows. Here's a strong guess, though: The SEC's member-institutions are going to be rewarded handsomely.

"I think in the first year it'll be more than we first thought," Bjork said. "…After that, I think it'll even out because I think they'll have a good idea about ad sales, revenue and sponsorship revenue. Distribution will be what it is at that point."

Those numbers, however astronomical they will be, can wait. Friday night was an opportunity for two teams to shine on a much brighter than usual stage.

"It was awesome," Ole Miss soccer coach Matt Mott said. "The atmosphere was just awesome. I thought we played with great effort and great intensity. I don't think our soccer was great at times, but to battle back and get a draw, we'll take it. For this kind of excitement in the game, it was awesome."

Mott said the Rebels had several key recruits in Oxford. Other targets told Mott they planned to watch the game on television. Having that sort of reach will change the game in recruiting for Ole Miss and the rest of the league's programs.

"Hopefully they enjoyed the game," Mott said.

It's almost a certainty they did. It's a guarantee, however, that they'll get more chances.

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