The Pay-Per-View Unlimited is rolling out of the station, starting to build up steam. But look up ahead, there's a car on the tracks and a man waving at the train to stop.
That man is U.S. Representative William Lipinski, D-Ill., and he has some words for those engineers: "Casey, you better watch your speed."
Lipinski, upset after the Notre Dame-Penn State football game nearly went to pay-per-view earlier this season, is introducing legislation that would prohibit pay-per-view telecasts from facilities built with public funds.
Lipinski told the Chicago Tribune that the Notre Dame-Penn State near-miss "crystallized in my mind that this was a further step taking away the free access [to sports from] so many working-class people, middle-class families."
Though his proposal wouldn't affect cable television, it practically would shut down pay-per-view of major sports if enacted -- and if constitutional.
There aren't a whole lot of stadiums or arenas anymore that can be considered privately built. And even private universities -- the bill would cover institutions as well as buildings -- generally receive some kind of government funding.
"Proposing legislation of this nature will bring all parties involved to back away from pay-per-view," Lipinski said. "If proposing the legislation won't do it, we are prepared to go through with it on a federal and state-by-state basis."
Were Lipinski's law (hmm, sounds like a good name for a television series -- "Lipinski's Law," starring Erik Estrada as Lipinski) already on the books, those two staples of pay-per-view, boxing and pro wrestling, might have to change venues, but it seems they could adjust easily. But most signs are pointing to the inevitability of some pay-per-view among the major pro sports.
Major League Baseball is not going to get another $1.1 billion from television when it's contract time in two years. And the NFL can't count on $30 billion again. Meanwhile, players with lifetime batting averages under .300 are walking off with $5 million-a-year deals.
Pro sports owners have a right to pursue a profit. And the words of the profits are written on the pay-per-view walls.
Though I don't want to pay for my televised sports any more than I already do -- those cable people keep sending me a bill each month, and the cost of commercials shows up on everybody's price tags -- I'm not sure Lipinski's legislation (hmm, sounds like a good name for a PBS show -- "Lipinski's Legislation," with your host, Carl Sagan) is desirable. Maybe tiny Republicans have taken over my keyboard -- oh, look, it's Robert Dole on the quotation marks -- but this isn't an area for government.
As Smokey the Bear might say: Only you can prevent pay-per-view. To steal yet another phrase: Just say no. When pay-per-view deals are offered by the NFL, resist the urge to buy that package of Tampa Bay Buccaneers games (hey, how hard can that be?). Viewers can -- to return to the opening train metaphor -- derail the trend.
If pay-per-view programming doesn't generate enough revenue, the teams and networks will offer little of it. But if, say, NBC's Olympics Triplecast -- a pay package from the Barcelona Games next summer -- is hugely successful, others will follow.
And if there is enough money to be made, a few congressmen waving papers aren't going to slow that train one bit.
The boss was out of the office, probably shopping for my holiday gift, but he left behind a list of questions, scribbled on the inside cover of the basketball media guide from Quinnipiac:
Things My Boss Wants to Know: Does Ron Thulin model his NBA announcing style on that of Turner Broadcasting's World Class Wrestling broadcasters? . . . When will Bill Parcells report on a rumored move by Will McDonough? . . . Why do basketball games from Hawaii have just as much cold shooting as those from New York?