The college sports-television industrial complex is at a crossroads. It seems like everyone involved is dealing with one crisis or another. The SEC, Big Ten and (soon) the ACC have or will have their own private fortunes through television networks, but traded a portion of their souls to get there. The Pac-12 has its own network, but no fortune. The Big 12 has a host of issues, stemming from its lack of a network. ESPN and Fox are losing subscribers by the bundle, threatening to bring the entire system down with them.
On the other end of FBS, the MAC has submitted itself fully to the whims of television, releasing a schedule earlier this month that calls for zero Saturday games in November. The Mountain West has also handed carte blanche to the television networks in exchange for a pile of cash, and is now wondering if the trade was worth it.
As detailed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Mountain West is fresh off a conference tournament that saw the second of its two semifinals scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. Pacific time tip off (which resulted in a 9:52 actual tip time)… and its championship game tip at 3 p.m. the following day.
“I’ve had several people, at least three people today, text me and say, ‘Is it really 9:30? I just looked at the schedule,’” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told the paper “I had to say, ‘Yeah, it’s really 9:30.’ It’s brutal.”
The result has the conference wondering if the trade-off is worth it — angering fans, inconveniencing players and coaches by playing games in the middle of the night for most of the country on a channel hardly anybody watches, all in exchange for a check. The result has the league thinking about — or even thinking about thinking about, if you will — spurning its next turn at the TV negotiating table in order to televise its game through an online-only medium.
The Mountain West would sacrifice up-front money (how much is to be determined and, one assumes, that variable will drive how far Thompson and company will truly go with the idea) and some exposure — though, let’s be honest, how many eyeballs are you really attracting for your conference semifinal basketball game at 12:52 Eastern time on CBS Sports Network? — in exchange for convenience, control and sanity.
“We spent about seven hours with the presidents and ADs talking about our TV package,” Thompson said. “We’re playing at 8:15 or 8:30 consistently in football, we’ve even had some 9 o’clock tips in basketball, we had three Sunday afternoon (basketball) games in San Diego this year. What are we doing? What’s the return?
“They hear it from fans. They go to the games themselves. Presidents are saying, ‘Wait a minute. I have a 6 a.m. breakfast in the morning, and we have an 8:30 p.m. kick?’ The question becomes: Is it worth $1 million per school to have all these disenfranchised fans?”
We already got one glimpse of how the market is changing this month through YouTube TV. This could be another. Heck, whose to say in the not-too-distant future we aren’t bouncing back and forth from the Big Ten, SEC, Mountain West and Pac-12 apps on our personally-customized YouTube TV accounts?