SEC Network ushers in new era of college sports

ESPN - SEC Announcement Press Conference - May 2, 2013

If you find it interesting that there’s real conversation about the major five football conferences “breaking away” from the NCAA and forming their own league, you should realize that this is happening whether or not we recognize its official status. The announcement of the SEC Network last week was yet another move that will accelerate the shifting landscape of college football.

The SEC wasn’t the first conference to create its own network, but it’s by far the most important. Mike Slive in not moving toward an SEC Network back in 2008 took a gamble by putting it off until the future. While the financial terms haven’t been disclosed, you can rest assured that the gamble paid off. The importance of the SEC in the college football landscape has only increased since 2008. The leverage that the SEC exercised in negotiating the launch of its own network with television companies like ESPN has only increased since 2008.

It’s obvious that the SEC Network will result in a massive revenue increase for the conference and the member institutions. This increasing revenue is a big part of the widening gap between the major conferences and the rest of college football, but it’s not the only part. In addition to the revenue gap, there’s also an increasing exposure gap.

Now, it’s not just the fact that networks like ESPN broadcast way more SEC games to major audiences than Big East games. In addition to having the preference of the major networks, the SEC and other conferences will now have their own networks as well. The increased exposure that the SEC Network will bring cannot be overstated.

The exposure is not just an increase in games that are broadcasted even though that is significant. In addition, member schools will have the opportunity to create original content to be run on the conference network. Many expect SEC schools to invest in production facilities and really “up their game” in anticipation of having the SEC Network as a distribution channel for school specific content. Think of the marketing exposure this creates for schools.

Meanwhile, schools like University of Central Florida don’t have the revenue or the exposure that a channel like the SEC Network will bring. The gap will continue to widen.

It doesn’t matter if conference realignment is on hold or that the BCS is scrapped. The current circumstances of college football make no difference. The economics will continue to force a contraction at the top of college football. The schools that don’t have the resources and ability to compete with the likes of Georgia or Alabama or Michigan will continue to struggle. And eventually fall away.

Realignment was all about contraction. It was simply big football programs saying that they weren’t interested in subsidizing the football programs of smaller schools – at least to the degree that they were already doing. This process will continue whether it continues in one year or ten years.

The SEC Network is another major step toward the contraction of college football. It’s evidence of the existing trend and will also be a contributing factor toward ensuring the trend continues. The major conferences are essentially taking over more of the pie that is college football. You’re seeing it in bowl games (see the SEC and Big 12 taking over the Sugar Bowl). You’re seeing it with television revenue. Lastly, you’re seeing it with realignment as the weaklings are kicked out of the club.

The SEC wasn’t the first to start the era of conference owned television networks, but because of the importance of the SEC, they have officially ushered in the era of conference owned television networks.

Photo credit: ESPN Images

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  • Kevin, with the ever widening gap of the college football conferences can we really start thinking there will be another mass restructure of the divisions? What I refer to is a similar situation as we saw in the 1970′s with the distinguishing of division III, II, I-AA, I-A, or the present FCS, and FBS. We are seeing more and more teams jumping to be in the big stage with schools such as Western Kentucky and UTSA but these schools have paid millions to move into the FBS. How can there be restructuring with so many now fighting for the right to be there? This has been a subject before the ncaa was formed in 1905 and has never really went away. But the main argument was equality on the field of play amongst other trivial things. That being said the situation has become even more complex than ever before. Money has been a small driving force involved in this topic but now it is THE driving force. The ncaa has the power to do it but this time I have to say it won’t be as simple as before. Thoughts? Remarks?