Yesterday it was reported by The SportsBusiness Journal that the SEC is once again considering the launch of its own television network as part of its ongoing contract negotiations with ESPN. It was also revealed the CBS is “balking” at making any significant increase in pay to the conference just because it’s added Missouri and Texas A&M in the past few months.
That’s all part of the negotiating process. Not to be lost in all of this, however, is the possibility/likelihood that both CBS and ESPN would like to see the SEC adopt a nine-game schedule for football. More “SEC versus SEC” inventory would be easier to sell for both networks than “SEC versus Jacksonville State” or “SEC versus Troy” type games.
The question is — how much is it worth to those networks?
If CBS, for example, says it won’t provide a significant bump in pay unless there are better games to choose from, that might encourage Mike Slive and the league’s presidents to overrule the conference’s athletic directors and football coaches next week in Destin… in what would be a very surprising move. The same could be true if ESPN showed that having more SEC in-league games on the schedule would help gain a new SEC Network placement on more cable systems. (For that very reason, ESPN is currently trying to land more Big 12 games on the schedule of the Longhorn Network it co-owns with Texas.)
The SEC is already working to improve the quality of its late-season schedule at the behest of its TV partners. On the basketball front, one need only remember how the SEC yielded to ESPN over those Thursday-Saturday turnarounds that became quite controversial among fans and some coaches last winter. Time and again Slive’s league has wisely shown a willingness to give and take when it comes to working happily with its big-spending television partners.
So if CBS and ESPN play hardball with the SEC while at the same time offering to open their wallets a bit wider in exchange for a nine-game conference slate, it’s at least possible that a nine-game schedule isn’t completely dead and buried just yet.
If those networks make it worth the league’s while. Big if.