Jim Williams: In college sports, it's clear TV is all that matters

|
Sports,College,Jim Williams

Here's the new motto in college sports: "It is not about the seats; it is about the eyeballs."

That became clear when Maryland bolted the ACC for the Big Ten and then Georgetown joined six other non-FBS football members of the Big East in announcing last week they are leaving.

Welcome to the new normal in college sports, in which football is king and money trumps tradition, long-standing rivalries and conference loyalty. Television market size is more important than geographic sensibility. That's why a team from California is heading to the Big East for football.

Maryland and Rutgers were added to the Big Ten because the conference wants the Big Ten Network on more accessible cable tiers in New York, the country's biggest media market; Washington, the eighth largest; and Baltimore, the 27th largest. That would give the Big Ten Network access to nearly 15 ?million new homes. As a result, when the conference does its new TV deal in 2016, you can add $150 to $200 million a year to the bottom line.

By the way, Fox Sports, which owns a majority of the Big Ten Network, also bought 49 percent of the Yes Network that shows the Yankees and reportedly plans to bundle the networks together in the Big Apple.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 launched its network this year with Fox Sports as a partner. In the Big 12, the Longhorn Network is run by Texas and ESPN, while the nine other members will be launching their own networks with the help of Fox Sports.

The SEC Network -- with the help of ESPN -- is on target to launch in time for the 2014 football season, and it promises to be almost as big a cash cow as the Big Ten Network.

All of these networks are in addition to the existing broadcast deals that pay the conferences billions of dollars.

That's where the ACC earns its money; the conference recently signed a lucrative contract with ESPN that runs until 2026 and will pay the schools about $15 million each over the course of the deal. The conference is exploring the possibility of starting its own network with ESPN, but it is far behind the other major conferences, and that could prove to be a problem.

So what about the Big East?

With his league suffering more defections than any other major conference, commissioner Mike Aresco has tried to save the Big East by adding the best teams from Conference USA and the Mountain West for football, and he may not be finished. The Big East's football and basketball TV deals end in the next two years, and the departure of the basketball schools will be a blow.

All of Aresco's moves have been football driven, which is part of the reason Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul will move on. Dubbed by the media as the Catholic Seven, the group boasts some of the biggest brand names in college basketball and understands its value together is far more than apart.

Right now the Atlantic 10 is the most powerful basketball-driven conference in the NCAA. It has a television deal worth a reported $350,000 dollars per school.

The Catholic Seven instantly should command television rights fees starting at $1 million dollars per university. With New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Milwaukee, it will cover some of the country's top media markets and has a national following.

Clearly this is a group that can show that NCAA basketball is worth big bucks from the networks.

ESPN, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network likely will be willing to get into a bidding war for the conference because of the teams' history of delivering strong local and national TV ratings.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc.

View article comments Leave a comment