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.”
That's largely true. The LSU-Alabama showdown last November garnered an 11.5 national rating, but the overall rating for the SEC on CBS was 4.2 in 2011, 4.2 in 2010 and 4.4 in 2009. That's a little better than the Big 12 on ABC, but nothing significant.
Hard to argue with Neinas' logic. A general college football fan in Oregon or Wisconsin or New York is not going to make Alabama-Tennessee or OSU-Texas appointment television. LSU-Bama or OU-Texas, yes. But those games are rare.
Neinas said the viewing public is discriminating. With so many options available in every broadcast window – 30something games a Saturday are available on most cable and satellite systems – fans migrate to the teams they know the most about.
This isn't 1972. Just because Brown-Dartmouth is on television doesn't mean college football fans will watch it.
And besides, a decent number of Big 12 games hit national television anyway.
With the ABC/ESPN relationship, the reverse mirror method works well. When OU-Baylor is on ABC in this part of the country and Southern Cal-Oregon is on elsewhere, ESPN or ESPN2 can air the games, reversed from their ABC regional assignments.
Also, ABC picks a decent number of games for national broadcast anyway. OU-Texas, Bedlam, Texas' Thanksgiving game.
Plus, here's another potential development. The ESPN/Fox relationship has changed. They remain arch-competitors, but they also have found common ground, even to the point of partnering on the new Pac-12 contract.
Here's how that could play out in the Big 12. Fox Sports has the cable rights to Big 12 football. That means if ESPN wants a Big 12 game – like a Thursday night, or one of those 8 p.m. Saturday slots – it must negotiate with Fox.
In the past, that has meant either a financial payout or a swap of games.
But Fox Sports' demands could move into the realm of an over-air network game. In other words, ESPN wants a Big 12 game for cable? Fine. Allow Big Fox to air a Big 12 game.
So the truth is, the Big 12's national exposure with ABC won't be far below what the Big 12 would have gotten with NBC or Big Fox.
It's more prestigious to have your own network. Vanity plays a part. The Big 12 would love to keep up with the SEC.
But that has to start on the scoreboard. That has to be done on the field. Then television will take care of itself.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.