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Versus expands its repertoire, viewership

Versus entered the cable lineup in 1995 as the Outdoor Life Network and reached 4.8 million households. It covered cycling, World Cup skiing, the Iditarod, fishing, horse shows, and bull riding, and won back-to-back Emmy Awards for its documentary series "Adventure Quest" in 1998 and 1999. By 2000, the network reached 26 million homes.

The network has stuck with its staples but has added the NHL, college football, skateboarding, and World Extreme Cagefighting to grab its target audience of men ages 18 to 34.

Two years ago, the year after the NHL lockout, Versus reached an agreement with the NHL to start airing games twice a week, including the conference playoffs and the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals.

Tonight, Versus will air the NHL draft for the second year in a row. After a pregame show at 6:30, the network will have live coverage (7-10) from Columbus, Ohio.

"I think the first year there was a lot of criticism for a network that was known for more outdoors than anything else," said Versus president Gavin Harvey. "And I think the NHL made a bold move to put this on the network, but they understood what we were, and they understood what we and [owner] Comcast wanted to do with the network. And I know that hockey fans were a little confused that first year, thinking we're glad we got hockey back, but it's on that other network . . . there was a lot of controversy.

"But we know, and not just from anecdotal evidence, that hockey fans are great, and they found us, and they bookmarked us. And that's the power of the NHL.

The network, which airs the National Lacrosse League, the US Davis Cup, the Boston Marathon, and all three weeks of the Tour de France, this year announced the addition of Big 12 and Pac-10 football games (last year it added Mountain West Conference games). Versus is now distributed in 72 million homes. The goal in 90 million, said Harvey.

Harvey, who joined the network in 2004, is a hunter, cyclist, angler, and motorcyclist.

"The process we've been in is trying to grow this network, he said. "And we think we are competing and growing. The NHL is obviously a crown jewel for us, and with the name-changing, we really are trying to get out there and get the best in class type of programming, and I think it's in a position where we can be taken seriously."

Wading in on blogs
A sportswriter from the Courier-Journal of Louisville had his credential yanked during last Sunday's NCAA Super Regional baseball game. The NCAA ejected Brian Bennett from the Louisville-Oklahoma State game for blogging play-by-play reports. (The action was lopsided, by the way, as Louisville won, 20-2.)

The NCAA notified Bennett in the fifth inning that in-game blogging violated NCAA policies, and asked him to turn in his credential and leave Louisville's Jim Patterson Stadium, according to the paper.

But the NCAA yesterday clarified its position on blogging, saying that live updates are permitted as long as they are limited to scores and time remaining. Spokesman Bob Williams said the organization had issued "incorrect information" that live updates were prohibited.

"In fact, in-game updates to include score and time remaining in competition are permissible by any media entity, whether credentialed or not," Williams said.

Let the debate begin
NESN will debut "The Globe 10.0" Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The half-hour show will air every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with repeats at 11 each night. Globe columnist Bob Ryan will host and match wits with Globe colleagues and other Boston personalities as they debate the top 10 issues of the day in New England sports. Think a regional "Pardon the Interruption." Up this week are the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and Nick Cafardo . . . If NBC executives were hanging their heads at the network's abysmal ratings for the Stanley Cup finals, they no doubt were elated with the numbers for last Sunday's final round of the US Open. It averaged 9.54 million viewers, equaling the best audience since 2002, when Tiger Woods won the rain-delayed Open. Last week's coverage peaked at a 10.1 rating/22 share from 7-7:30 p.m., the best half-hour rating on any network for the week. That was when viewers watched a relaxed and eventual winner Angel Cabrera in the clubhouse while Woods missed a birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the date of the first show of "The Globe 10.0" was incorrect in this Sports Media column. The show begins on Tuesday, June 26.

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