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Confusion leads to lack of TV

Jim Liberatore didn't want to be left out two years ago when SportsChannel Florida signed a deal with the Florida High School Activities Association to televise the state finals. So as the general manager of rival Sunshine Network, he came up with a solution _ televise regular-season high school action.

And so the Florida High School Champions Series was born. In its second season of televising mostly football and boys and girls basketball, the show has covered events from nearly every part of Florida.

The Tampa Bay area is the lone exception.

Liberatore said he wanted to cover a Bradenton Southeast football game two years ago, but couldn't because Time Warner Communications owned the exclusive rights to cover the Bay area high schools. Liberatore said he thought the same held true this season and that's why no area schools have been featured on the Champions Series.

"We wanted to get into Tampa but weren't allowed to," Liberatore said.

Pinellas County-based Time Warner representatives Brian Aungst, the regional director of public relations, and Ed Bottger, the local origination manager, both said TWC is in the middle of a five-year exclusive contract with the Pinellas County Athletic Conference. But they said they were unaware of Sunshine Network's interest in showcasing Tampa Bay area teams.

"It's just a lack of communication," said Aungst, who recently announced his candidacy for the Clearwater mayor position. "We would have no problem waiving that (exclusive contract) over here."

Aungst said that he thinks Time Warner in Tampa has a similar arrangement but that it operates under different contracts in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties. Aungst also said he would call Liberatore to work something out so that Bay area schools can be featured in the Champions Series.

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