A Tennessee fan from Northeastern Ohio asked via e-mail recently how much more UT and SEC football would be available on television. He said his local cable provider wasn’t sure.
That’s not surprising. I doubt anyone outside the SEC really gets it.
In fact, my guess is the rest of college football is in for a shock.
It’s one thing to hear about how extensive the SEC’s 15-year television package is with ESPN. It’s another thing to see it.
And you can see it just about anywhere, anytime on Saturday’s this fall.
For example, take the the first weekend of the college football season. It opens with South Carolina at N.C. State on Thursday night. On the first Saturday of the season, you can watch SEC football from noon (Kentucky vs. Miami (OH)) into the early hours of Sunday (LSU at Washington).
But don’t worry about next-day withdrawals. At 3:30 Sunday afternoon, you will have Ole Miss vs. Memphis.
The opening Saturday won’t be an aberration. It will become routine from September through November.
And it won’t just be a regional routine. It will be available from New York to Los Angeles.
The rest of college football won’t know what hit it until the SEC comes crashing into its market with as much subtlety as Florida demonstrated against Ohio State in winning the 2006 national championship.
The ramifications will go beyond exposure or the multi-billion-dollar windfall the conference will receive from ESPN and CBS. The SEC isn’t that far from becoming a super conference, which is exactly what former conference commissioner Harvey Schiller had in mind when he envisioned establishing SEC franchises in Texas and South Florida.
Combine the money and exposure with the conference’s three consecutive football national championships and you can understand why commissioner Mike Slive speculated this eventually could be known as the “SEC’s golden age.”
If so, consider this the beginning. More money and more exposure will translate into better recruiting, especially for the lower-echelon programs. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt will now have advantages over some more traditional and affluent programs from other conferences.
It won’t be all good. There’s always a backlash to exposure, as Notre Dame can attest. But detractors are easily endured when you’re making millions from NBC.
Although Ohio State and Michigan don’t have their own networks, they also have felt the backlash from college football fans who think those programs get more exposure than they deserve. Remember the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game, which ESPN hyped — on behalf of its ABC big brother — as though it were the college equivalent of the Super Bowl? The two unbeaten teams followed up the fanfare with a dramatic, high-scoring game that ESPN gleefully converted into an instant classic.
The game was knocked off its pedestal within two months when Florida held Ohio State to 82 yards in the national championship game, and Southern California had its way with Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Eventually, college football fans in Anywhere America might find themselves rooting against the SEC, particularly if ESPN begins promoting the conference’s biggest games with an Ohio State-Michigan fervor. But rooting against this conference when championships are on the line hasn’t been a rewarding venture lately.
It’s not the jeering or cheering that will matter to ESPN or the SEC. It’s the watching that will count.
On the first Saturday of the 2008 college football season, which Tennessee opened on Labor Day night in Pasadena, I watched from a Marina Del Rey sports bar, as one SEC game after another popped up on the screens. I wasn’t surprised to see Alabama vs. Clemson. But Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe? Mississippi State vs. Louisiana Tech? In Los Angeles?
I wasn’t just watching SEC football. I was getting a preview of SEC football to come — almost anywhere, anytime.
And you probably won’t have to leave home to see it.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.