The 2023 season of college football will be upon us soon and fans will be in for some distinct changes this year. Most specifically conference realignment and the enormous television money driving it. Those of us from the east have likely grown up fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Big East or other regional favorite that you either attended or lived nearby.
The same could be said for the Midwest and the Big 10 conference, and the Pac 12 Conference representing those on the west coast. Well, that all has changed. I’ll give you three guesses why. Spoiler alert- college football, like most industries in America, is ruled by money.
It’s been a game of musical chairs and can be tough for the average fan to keep up with. It’s been happening in drips and droves for many years, but the tectonic shift happened last year when Texas and Oklahoma left what in the old days was known as the Southwestern Conference or Big 12 currently, to head for greener football pastures in the prolific SEC. That set the dominos in motion.
Specifically the PAC 12.
The self-proclaimed “Conference of Champions,” has been dealt the death kneel. The four remaining colleges, California, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State are all scrambling for new homes.
A few decades ago TV money built what was known as the Power 5 conferences allowing college football to essentially bankroll the remainder of men’s and women’s sports. What comes around goes around. That which was created by TV money has been destroyed by it as well.
According to Amy Perko, CEO of the college sports reform group the Knight Commission, “Conference realignment is driven by this continual chase of revenue. The winners, at least in the media, are being defined as the conferences that bring in the most revenue.”
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of how much money the major conferences are receiving.
The league’s 20-year top-tier deal with ESPN runs through 2036. It pays about $240 million annually, meaning each of the 14 schools gets about $17 million.
The league is in the middle of a six-year, $2.64 billion deal with Fox and ESPN that expires in 2023 and currently makes it the lead dog in annual TV revenue, with each of the 14 schools receiving about $31.4 million. Not too shabby.
The league is in the midst of a 13-year deal with ESPN and Fox that ends in 2025, and reports earlier this year said the networks were not interested in early renegotiations. That is one of the reasons Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the league. The current deal pays the 10-school league about $200 million annually.
ESPN will be the exclusive home of SEC football and men’s basketball starting in 2024. The 10-year contract is worth more than $300 million annually for the league. Under that new ESPN deal, the 14 member schools would be expected to receive about $40 million a year solely from the league’s TV deal.
If you’re a college sports fan of any kind and of any sport, you must realize that bigtime football is footing the bill for everything. Yes, the fencing team at Penn and the women’s water polo team at Stanford all exist because of men’s football. A few select programs at a few elite schools have drawn pity and funding from alumni to keep them in the game and relevant. But those are the exception.
To be honest, like Anheuser-Busch doesn’t care about its beer drinkers, network broadcasters don’t really care about college football, they care about the money that the sport garners. They would air pillow fighting contests prime time if it were more popular than Alabama football. While Fox, ESPN and CBS have worked to consolidate power and pick off name brands at a discount, the future they have set up should improve the number of quality games.
TV doesn’t care about Washington State … and now it doesn’t have to care about Washington State. The Pac 12 programs it does care about, USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington, are headed for the Big Ten.
The one thing you rarely hear is the affect it will have on the student-athletes themselves. Imagine the young sophomore coed who has two midterms this week and has to travel from Los Angeles to College Park, MD on a Tuesday night for a conference volleyball game. That’s not going to be a lot of fun. The college students of course have no say in the matter and will trudge through somehow.
The benefits of youth I guess.
Instead of a pat on the back the student-athletes are being blamed for tearing down the current system, which of course college sports officials themselves are killing. The NCAA and Power 5 conferences have continued their lobbying efforts to control name, image, and likeness (NIL), minimize athlete compensation, and hinder any future athlete collective bargaining effort.
The age old question of how long it would take TV money to destroy college football was surmised by Washington State head coach Jake Dickert, “Maybe we’re here.”