“The money wasn't the issue,” then-Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey said at the time. “The exposure and the money together made it the best package. “
A short while later, the SEC negotiated a deal with ESPN to nationally broadcast more of its games in primetime. All of a sudden, the SEC was appearing regularly on two national networks while other leagues scrambled to keep up.
2008: The SEC and CBS agree to their most recent broadcast rights extension, which pays the conference a staggering average of $55 million per year through the 2023-24 season.
The league also renewed its cable-rights deal with ESPN that year. The 15-year contract guaranteed the SEC a total of $2.25 billion.
2011: After years of splitting its television revenue unevenly — giving more of the pie to teams that made the most TV appearances — the Big 12 agrees to switch to a more equal revenue sharing model.
The SEC has long distributed its television revenue equally, allowing schools like Mississippi State and Vanderbilt the ability to keep up with Alabama and LSU, not only in the national exposure from the league's CBS contract, but also in terms of facilities and coach salaries.
Aug. 26, 2011: The Longhorn Network debuts. ESPN and the University of Texas embark on their 20-year, $300 million venture that becomes a hot-button issue for the unstable Big 12 Conference.
Texas A&M bolted for the SEC largely because of the new network, and the Big 12's perceived instability also caused Missouri to bolt for the SEC.
2012: The Big 12 approves a 13-year television contract with ESPN and FOX, increasing its number of guaranteed national football telecasts to 25 per season.
The deal includes a minimum of six games nationally broadcast over-the-air each year on FOX, allowing the Big 12 to have some of what the SEC has had since 1996 with its CBS deal.
2013: The SEC and ESPN announce the creation of an SEC Network. The deal adds 10 years to the current SEC-ESPN contract.
The 24-hour SEC Network is set to launch before the 2014 season and will be wholly owned and operated by ESPN.