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Is the Big 12's new deal with ABC/ESPN a good idea?

BERRY TRAMEL COMMENTARY - When you're talking about college football and TV, it's all about money. And that's exactly what the Big 12 will get with its new deal: Money. Big 12 schools are set to make roughly $20 million a year each in the new deal.
by Berry Tramel Modified: March 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm •  Published: March 17, 2012

Virtually every autumn Saturday, a Southeastern Conference football game is broadcast on CBS coast to coast.

Not on cable. Not regional coverage. Over the air. National.

The Big 12 does not have quite the same exposure. And that's by choice.

NBC absolutely is interested in expanding its college football platform beyond Notre Dame home games. Fox – big Fox, not Fox Sports – clearly wants to get into the Saturday game.

There most certainly is competition for the Big 12's Tier I rights (over the air).

Yet the Sports Business Journal reported that the Big 12 has agreed to a nine-year extension of its contract with ABC/ESPN, which will tie the conference to its long-time partner through 2025.

But ABC will air the majority of Big 12 games on a regional basis. They won't be automatically aired in Florida or California or Ohio. The SEC's CBS games are national broadcasts.

So is re-upping with ABC a good move for the Big 12? I assume it's the best money-maker. The league is expected to get $1.3 billion from ABC, to go with the $1.2 billion from Fox Sports for Big 12 cable rights. That's $2.5 billion over 13 years, which means roughly $20 million a year per school. That's about $5 million more than Big 12 schools now bring in.

Lot of money. That can fund several sports, a ton of support personnel or one football coach. Whatever you need.

But does the deal provide the marketing and status the Big 12 craves?

CBS trumpets the SEC at every turn. Watch a Notre Dame game, and NBC talks with reverence about the Fighting Irish, as if Johnny Lujack was quarterbacking and Ara Parseghian coaching.

Sounds awfully tempting, to have a network raise your banner, to the exclusion of all other leagues.

On the other hand, ABC/ESPN isn't exactly a marketing hole. Having a certain big game on ABC matters to ESPN's decision on where to host GameDay, which is no small item in autumn. ESPN has gone through its share of bullhorns, hawking the Big 12.

The Big 12 knows what it's getting with ABC/ESPN. NBC or Big Fox would be new territory.

Some of this question is simple prestige. Would a contract guaranteeing a national telecast every week do more for an embattled league desperate to deliver the message that its stability is assured and that its best days are ahead?

Not necessarily, Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas told me a couple of weeks ago.

“Let me remind you that college football is still a regional sport,” Neinas said. “Unless you have a big SEC game, it's not going to rate that well. They have games on the SEC package that aren't going to knock your socks off.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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